With two of the most historic tracks up next on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar, then a 10-race playoff to determine the 2018 champion, No. 14 Carolina Ford Dealers Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Clint Bowyer says the needle on the sport’s intensity meter is about to be pegged.
“The pay window is starting to open and it’s time to get going,” said Bowyer, who’ll race in the 69th running of the Southern 500 Sunday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway followed by the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 2. “This sport has two pretty big races the next two weekends and then it’s playoff time and we decide a champion. It’s the time of year when you show everything you have. This is what we’ve worked for. The intensity will pick up on the track and in the pits. This is the best time of the season.”
With so much on the line, who better to have on Bowyer’s side Sunday night than 50-time Cup Series winner and 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ned Jarrett, who has a special affinity and skill at the South Carolina oval. Jarrett won the September 1965 Southern 500 by 14 laps – the largest victory margin in NASCAR history.
Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Fusion will mimic the design Jarrett ran on his race-winning 1965 Ford Galaxie by sporting a royal blue paint scheme with period-specific graphics. The scheme is in keeping with “The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR,” during which the industry honors the sport’s history. Last year, nearly all the NASCAR Cup Series teams competed with throwback paint schemes in the Southern 500.
“If you want to be the best, you might as well go and join the best and Ned’s race down there that day is the best in the sport’s history,” Bowyer said. “I’m glad Ned will be with us this weekend. Maybe some of his success will rub off on us. Darlington has become such a cool weekend with our look back at the history of the sport.”
In the 1965 race, Jarrett drove his No. 11 Richmond Ford Motor Company Galaxie to the dominating Southern 500 victory. It marked the 49th of Jarrett’s 50 career wins and it helped secure his second and final series championship, bookending the title he won in 1961. Jarrett ran 21 races in 1966 before transitioning to a broadcasting career.
“I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the Southern 500 and seeing everyone this weekend,” said the 85-year-old Jarrett, who will be in Darlington on Sunday. “I don’t think in this day and age you’ll see anyone win by 14 laps, but I think if you ask Clint and any of the other drivers, they’ll tell you they don’t care about the margin of victory. They just want the victory.”
Jarrett is NASCAR’s version of the NFL’s John Madden appealing to multiple generations of fans. Some fans know Madden as the Super Bowl-winning coach, others as a television commentator, while younger fans know Madden from popular video games.
NASCAR fans first met Jarrett as a champion driver. The next generation watched as he made the transition to the broadcast booth that included tenures at MRN Radio and on television with CBS, ESPN and TNN. Jarrett was the first widely known television analyst to work for different broadcast networks at the same time. He spent 22 years at CBS and 19 with ESPN while co-hosting the weekly, one-hour Inside NASCAR program on TNN.
A third generation of fans knows Jarrett as the patriarch of one of NASCAR’s first families. He and his wife Martha have two sons – Glenn and Dale – who are both former NASCAR drivers and daughter Patti J. Makar. Ned and Dale became the second father-son combination to win NASCAR Cup Series championships when Dale earned the 1999 title. Glenn followed his father’s career into racing and broadcasting and, after retiring as a driver in 2008, Dale joined Ned and Glenn as a broadcaster. Patti also worked in racing and married Jimmy Makar, who worked with Dale for three years at Joe Gibbs Racing and was the 2000 championship-winning crew chief for Bobby Labonte. Dale’s son Jason scored several ARCA victories and made numerous starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Bowyer hopes the Jarrett paint scheme is once again productive in Darlington. The Emporia, Kansas native is a 10-time NASCAR Cup Series winner and is in his second year driving SHR’s No. 14 Ford Fusion. Victories earlier this year at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway earned Bowyer a berth in the NASCAR playoffs that begins Sept. 9 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Bowyer arrives at Darlington after enjoying the final off weekend of the 2018 season by taking his family of four on a vacation to the beach. He led 120 laps before finishing sixth at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway Aug. 18, the most recent Cup Series race.
In addition to winning at the historic tracks in the coming weeks, Bowyer’s goal at Darlington and Indianapolis is to add to the 10 playoff points he already owns. His 10 points are the fourth-most behind “Big Three” drivers Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Playoff points are crucial for drivers with dreams of making it to the season finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway because they are added to each driver’s tally after the point totals are reset at the end of the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Drivers earn five playoff points for a victory and one point for a stage win. Additional points are earned based on the regular-season points finish after Indianapolis. The regular-season champion earns 15 points, second place earns 10, eight for third and seven for fourth, continuing in descending increments to one point for 10th place.
Bowyer enters the Darlington race fifth in regular-season standings, trailing fourth-place teammate Kurt Busch by 20 points and leading sixth-place driver Joey Logano by eight points.
“We have a lot to race for these next two races,” Bowyer said. “Not only are winning at Darlington and Indy dreams of most drivers, but good runs at both places earn you those points that are really important if you want to advance in the playoffs.”
With historic tracks, the regular-season points race, playoff points and an upcoming playoff battle, it’s easy to see why there could be a broken needle on the sport’s intensity meter before all is said and done.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Carolina Ford Dealers Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on Darlington?
“I just love the old-school feel. The racetrack lends that feel. You know, you can’t get on that racetrack and not feel old school. They repaved it and it’s already worn out. You run right up against the wall, it’s unique, you’ve got to be able to attack the track, but be patient enough and respectful enough to not ruin your day and destroy your car. It’s just very, very old school as you go back through there.”
Do you ever wish you could race back in the day?
“I would have loved to compete in the 1970s and ’80s. You were able to go to the shop and work your ass off and reap the benefits after you dusted the competition that weekend by having something that they didn’t, or because you outfoxed them.”
Why is this time of year important in NASCAR?
“First, everyone who has ever raced in NASCAR has wanted to win in Darlington. Taking that trophy home will be one of the best feelings in the world. Second, in the big picture, it’s close to money time. This is when the pay window opens and we put everything we’ve learned in 2018 on the line. All the hours put in by the folks at the race shop, at the track and all of our supporters, this is what our whole year has focused on. And then, in just a couple of weeks, 16 teams will have 10 races to win a championship.”
What are your thoughts on Darlington?
“I like the uniqueness of the track. I’ve struggled to have good finishes there but we’ve always raced well. We just can’t seem to seal the deal at the end. Something always goes haywire in the end but, sooner or later, we are going to overcome that and have a good weekend.”
Do you remember your first Darlington experience?
“My first Cup race at Darlington was 2007 and I won the pole. Truth be told, it scared the daylights out of me.”