Clint Bowyer’s strategy is about as clear-cut as it gets this weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix when he competes in the next-to-last Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the 2018 season.
If the No. 14 ITsavvy Ford driver wins Sunday, he advances to the Championship 4 round next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway to compete in the four-way, winner-take-all title race. Anything less this weekend at Phoenix sends Bowyer to Homestead battling for a finish of fifth to eighth in the final point standings.
It’s going to take a spectacular effort for the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver to advance Sunday, but Phoenix is a pretty good place for Bowyer and his SHR organization.
“It’s a pretty simple strategy this weekend for us: win and we’re in,” said Bowyer, who owns two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 26 races at Phoenix. “We’re obviously going to do our best. Phoenix has been good to us in the past. Now, we just need her to be great to us.”
The mile-oval in the desert is SHR’s best track, with six victories and 17 top-five finishes in 58 starts. Kevin Harvick owns five of SHR’s six victories, including a win in this season’s April race. Bowyer had a good run of his own that day, ending with a sixth-place finish.
It will be a different-looking Phoenix facility when the Cup Series begins practice Friday. As part of its $178 million project, the track’s start-finish line has been moved from the middle of what was the frontstretch to what was turn two – now turn four. The change was made because the track added 45,000 grandstand seats to that area of the track as part of its huge renovation project. Restarts and the race finish will be in front of the majority of fans attending the event.
“I’m telling you I think moving the start-finish line is going to be a bigger deal than anyone thinks,” Bowyer said. “I’ve raced at a lot of racetracks all over the country and I have never seen a start-finish line right out of the corner. It’s very, very unique and it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
Bowyer said the change could make an impact during the race.
“I think where you will see that really play out is on restarts and finishes,” he said. “How it comes down to that last-lap pass for a position to maybe put yourself in the playoffs or something – you kind of just have to make it out of that corner. You just have to kind of have forward momentum to make it across the line. That, in my opinion, can bring on some wild, wild things, I think, over the next few years there.”
For the fans, these changes bring new and improved access to the garage. The renovations also include new restaurants, plus a state-of-the-art facility inside the gates that includes two separate entertainment venues.
“I can’t wait to get to Phoenix – it’s a fun racetrack, fun atmosphere and fun fan base,” Bowyer said. “Everything about Phoenix is awesome. By the way, she’s a new Phoenix. The start-finish line has moved. So are the garages, plus everything else that is being done. I’ve seen some pictures, but I can’t wait to get out there and see what it looks like.”
For the second time in 2018, Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Fusion will carry the paint scheme of ITsavvy (pronounced I-T-savvy). The Addison, Illinois-based company is one of the fastest-growing resources for integrated IT products and technology solutions in the United States. ITsavvy has catapulted rapidly from a Midwest startup to a national leader in IT products and solutions.
Founded in 2004 by Mike Theriault and Chris Kurpeikis, ITsavvy has been consistently recognized as one of the fastest-growing businesses of its type. ITsavvy is a single-source, end-to-end IT partner. The company combines a comprehensive, value-added reseller business of more than a million computer, hardware and software products with an industry-leading advanced solutions group. ITsavvy has access to $8 billion in daily inventory in 46 distribution centers around the country with the ability to ship in-stock items the same day they are ordered.
Bowyer arrives at Phoenix eighth in the playoff standings, 73 points behind the fourth and final transfer position to the Championship 4 after finishing 26th Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Bowyer qualified second, but opening-lap contact with Denny Hamlin forced Bowyer to pit road for repairs, dropping him two laps behind the leaders that he could never regain.
Points no longer matter to Bowyer. Only a victory guarantees his place in the title battle.
“We’re going to try like hell,” he said.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 ITsavvy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Does it mean anything to have all four SHR Fords in the Round of 8?
“Yeah, it means something to all of us and everyone involved at Stewart-Haas Racing. That army of people who are back at the shop working tirelessly day in and day out. Those people – it is unbelievable the people who are in the Stewart-Haas camp. I am not saying other teams are not racers, but I have been with about all of them now and I have never seen a group of just sheer racers. What I mean by that is, when you have down time, you see them with their kids racing Late Models or a dirt car somewhere, or they are racing on their weekends. Some of our shop guys – it’s amazing how many true die-hard, hardcore racers there are at SHR. For me, I think that speaks volumes about our performance. When we do get behind, if we do, they close the gap in a short amount of time. Their attention to detail and willingness to work all across the board, everybody involved pushes one another to be better. I think we have closed the gap drastically from last year to this year. It was my first year last year when we really only had one car running good each week. We could have a good run and would back it up with a couple of bad ones. We were spraying it all over the place. This year, we are there with all four cars every week.”
Is there pressure in the playoffs?
“The pressure this time of year is intense. In any weekend, there is always pressure but, inside these playoffs, it increases. It’s the drivers, the teams you are competing against. At this time of year you are going against the best of the best. But, we all feed off that. You have to be able to eat that up and enjoy that and somehow make peace with it because it’s there. There’s no getting around the pressure side of that. You have to be able to perform at your best within that pressure.”
What does it take to be a NASCAR champion?
“To be a NASCAR champion, you have to have the total package and that’s the team and driver and everyone in the organization, as well as the folks you work with at Ford Performance and Roush-Yates Engines. You’ve got to be the total package if you want to beat these guys in the Cup Series. We have all the pieces of the puzzle. Now we just have to put them together.”