It’s been an impressive few opening chapters in what should be a long history book for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
The Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team has won 38 times in 948 races since its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 2009. The organization owned by Gene Haas and three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart has notched championships with Stewart in 2011 and Kevin Harvick in 2014.
In February, SHR celebrated its first Daytona 500 victory when Kurt Busch took the checkered flag. SHR drivers have won at every active track on the Cup Series tour except two: Kentucky Speedway in Sparta and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where the Cup Series races Sunday in the Alabama 500.
First-year SHR driver Clint Bowyer would like to write his name in the team record book by bringing home a trophy from the 2.66-mile Alabama restrictor-plate track. Bowyer, the driver who replaced Stewart in the No. 14 in 2017, would join Stewart, Harvick, Busch and Ryan Newman as SHR winners.
“No doubt that’s our goal this weekend in Talladega,” said Bowyer, who is tied with Harvick for the most points in the last 10 Talladega races with 296. “Look at the list of those guys who’ve won at SHR. There are three champions on the list. These guys are the best of the best.”
Bowyer isn’t too shabby at restrictor-plate tracks. He’s won twice, posted six top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in just 24 races at Talladega while also logging four top-five finishes in 24 points races at Talladega’s sister track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Bowyer nearly wrote his name in the record book in May at Talladega when he raced in the top-five in the closing laps before tire damage forced a pit stop that dropped him to 23rd at the start of overtime. He rallied in the two-lap shootout to finish 14th.
While it might not seem like it from the stands, Bowyer said there is a great deal of strategy behind restrictor-plate racing success. It begins as early as Friday during practice when drivers and teams balance the risk of damaging a car versus the knowledge gained by running in a pack.
“Attitude is a big part of this, but it goes toward being a student while you’re out there, learning as much as you can. That’s the tricky thing about these situations at these racetracks,” he said.
“We’re scared to practice because we don’t want to tear our cars up because that’s the best car we’ve got. Then you are out there in the race and you’re like, ‘I need to learn something.’ If you are single file in the race, you’re not learning, either, so you are now at the end of the race and nobody has really learned anything. Then all hell breaks loose as we’re trying to figure it out with two or three laps to go, trying to win the race for our teams.”
Bowyer owns the ninth-best average finish of all the full-time drivers in 2017. But the 2017 stat sheet could really use a victory. He and the crew chief Mike Bugarewicz-led team have posted three second-place and two third-place finishes this year.
“We are still trying to win our first race, so we have work to do,” said Bowyer, who owns top-10 finishes in two of the last three Cup Series races. “We have some races coming up that are good tracks for us, including Talladega. We want to finish this season out right and would love to win and build some momentum going into 2018.”
A trophy from Talladega would be an excellent start.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on Talladega?
“You have to respect these racetracks and you’ve got to get to the end of them. Obviously, you’ve got to have a little bit of luck not to get caught up in things and, more importantly, be careful not to cause them yourself.”
Does attitude matter in restrictor-plate racing?
“You better make sure that you’re having fun with it. If you’re miserable the whole time you’re there, you’re not going to make the right decisions and probably not going to have the success you want.”