If ever an example is needed to illustrate the highs and lows of a racecar driver’s life, then look no further than the last time No. 14 Haas Automation VF-1 for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Clint Bowyer raced at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and the days that followed.
Bowyer qualified ninth for the June 3 race at Pocono and ran in the top-five much of the day. In the closing laps, it appeared Bowyer was in line to battle for the victory, but a missed shift with five laps remaining dropped him to the back of the pack and left him with a 20th-place finish.
“I’m sick to my stomach,” said Bowyer after he left the racetrack mulling his misfortune. “I let my team down today.”
He beat himself up for the next several days as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series headed to the next race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Seven days after the Pocono disappointment, a late, two-tire stop for track position, combined with some of the best driving of his racing career at the high-speed Michigan oval enabled Bowyer to edge SHR teammate and always tough competitor Kevin Harvick. Rain ended the race early, putting Bowyer in victory lane for the second time in 2018.
It was a race that saw SHR sweep the top three spots for the first time in its 10 years of Cup Series racing, and Ford claim seven of the top eight spots. It was in the final laps that Bowyer earned the victory.
“When we went out there on two tires, I looked in the mirror and I was so far ahead of everybody else I was like, ‘Oh man, we are in trouble,’ Bowyer said. “The rain came just in time. I was trying to hold (Harvick) off. I was cutting him off and taking his line away pretty bad. If it wasn’t for a win, you wouldn’t be doing that.”
It capped a pretty emotional week of disappointment and success, but that’s part of the sport.
“This sport can beat you down and I’ve certainly been beat down at times in my career,” Bowyer said. “But that’s what makes the highs so high. That’s why you celebrate the way you do.”
Bowyer arrives at Pocono after a disappointing run in New Hampshire, where a late-race accident left him with a 35th-place finish. Like he did at Michigan, he hopes to rebound this weekend when the Cup Series returns to the 2.5-mile Pocono triangle. Bowyer’s No. 14 Haas Automation Ford should be one of the fastest on the track and battling for victory.
He hopes the battle for victory comes down to the last few laps of the race like it did at Michigan. He said his favorite part of the sport is when everything is on the line.
“That’s when the pay window’s open, the money’s on the line, it’s go time,” he said. “Let’s see what we’re made out of. Let’s line these things up and get after it.”
He hopes that attitude pays off in the NASCAR playoffs that begin in just seven races.
“For me, I love that aspect,” Bowyer said. “A lot of guys, it makes them nervous. I’ve always looked to the playoffs as an opportunity. I’ve always liked the racetracks in the playoffs, but it’s just that feel, that competitiveness. It doesn’t matter what your regular season did. You get it there and your cars are running well, your communication, your boys are all – you got the swagger and what it takes, you’ve got to be set on ‘kill.’ You’re out of time, you’re out of Mulligans, it’s time to go.”
Bowyer arrives at Pocono sixth in points with two victories, six top-five finishes and 10-top 10s in 2018. Only Bowyer, Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch own multiple victories in 2018. Bowyer has played a key role in SHR’s team success in 2018. Harvick’s win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon last weekend marked SHR’s series-leading eighth points-paying victory 20 races into the 2018 season. SHR also won the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. New Hampshire was SHR’s 11th Cup Series victory with Ford.
Bowyer has proven that, in NASCAR, disappointment one week can quickly turn to success the next week. He hopes that’s true Sunday at Pocono.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation VF-1 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Do you like returning to Pocono just 56 days after your last race there?
“As we go through these races, the thing I love the most about the season is we start going back to these races for the second time – especially in the playoffs. That notebook is even bigger for us because our cars have been unloading fast. Now, it’s just fine-tuning.”
What are your thoughts on the track at Pocono?
“Pocono is a really tough track with three different turns. I want to make sure we qualify well so we can get a good starting position and pit stall. Winning in Pennsylvania with (Lehighton, Pennsylvania native and No. 14 crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) would be cool. He’d be thrilled. Heck, so would all of us.”
MIKE BUGAREWICZ, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Haas Automation VF-1 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What does Pocono mean to you?
“There’s a simple, one-word description I have of Pocono, and it’s ‘home.’ I grew up about 20 minutes from the racetrack. I’ve raced up in the Northeast and attended many of the races at Pocono. I used to go to qualifying all the time there. Pocono means a lot to me. It would really mean a lot to me to have a win there at some point in my career. I haven’t been successful with that, yet, but I hope to change that shortly.”