Clint Bowyer said coming close to victory in several Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races in 2017 is nice, but it isn’t good enough. He’d like to change that Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
With three races remaining in the regular season, Bowyer is in a battle to secure one of the 16 spots in the 10-race Cup Series playoffs. He trails Matt Kenseth by 31 points, Jamie McMurray by 52 points and Chase Elliott by 62 points in the battle for the final three berths in the playoffs.
A win would secure a postseason berth, but a good points finish Saturday night would increase the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver’s chances in the playoff race.
“We’ve come close to victory several times this year,” said Bowyer, who has scored the 10th-most points of any driver this season with three second-place and two third-places finishes. “That’s what can be so frustrating. You are only one or two spots away from where you want to be, but there’s a huge difference between first and everything else in this business.”
Like many drivers, Bowyer feels the Bristol night race on the .533-mile, high-banked oval with lap speeds at 130 mph is one of the highlights of the Cup Series season. Although he won an Xfinity race at Bristol in 2008, a Cup Series victory at Bristol would be near the top of his career accomplishments.
He owns seven top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 23 Bristol races during in his 11 full Cup Series seasons. He finished second to Jimmie Johnson on April 24 in a race that saw Bowyer battle back from 21st midway through the race, then restart seventh with 48 laps remaining. He used new tires to slice through the field and drive to within 1.199 seconds of Johnson’s bumper.
If he finishes one spot better Saturday night, he promises a victory party unlike any other Bristol fans have witnessed since its first race in 1961.
“I want to celebrate in front of all those wild and crazy fans,” he said. “There’s no better atmosphere. They’re so close to you that you feel that environment.
“I’m telling you, during driver intros you’re walking down there and it’s just the feeling that comes over you before you get in that car. It’s just something you don’t feel anywhere else. It’s because of the closeness of the fans to you. They’re all breathing down on you and expecting big things out of you, and you can’t wait to go out there and get in that coliseum and go to battle.”
Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Fusion will carry the Rush Truck Centers paint scheme during Saturday night’s race. Hopefully, he’ll restart his recent hot streak that cooled last week with a 23rd-place finish at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. In the two races before Michigan, Bowyer finished fifth Aug. 6 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and sixth July 30 at Pocono (Pa.) International Raceway.
Bowyer replaced three-time champion and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car in 2017. He and the Mike Bugarewicz-led crew have enjoyed a great first season, but their view of 2017 will likely depend on how the next three races play out. Unless Bowyer wins during the next three races, it appears his playoff fate will be decided in the final laps of the last regular-season race Sept. 9 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
“I’m the hunter, not the hunted,” he said. “So it’s a lot of fun to go into this weekend knowing that you’ve got to go out there and chase that guy down or chase those guys down and, hopefully, pop off a win here and just put it all to bed.”
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Center Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What kind of pressure do you feel to get into the playoffs?
“There’s always pressure. It doesn’t matter. There’s pressure in the Daytona 500 to go out there and perform and try to win that race. There’s always pressure. It’s no different now. You still focus on the task at hand. You focus on unloading a fast racecar, making good downforce, making good horsepower, knowing it’s gonna take that on this racetrack. And you focus on the adjustments, the balance of your car, so you can go out and qualify well. That enables you to gain those stage points as we go through the race and then work hard to get a finish. It’s the task at hand, week-in and week-out, that you have to focus on. You can’t worry about those points. You have to go out and do your job week-in and week-out and, if you do that, I feel like, with the way we’re running, we can get in two different ways. I think we could win and I think we can point our way in. I think both of those are definite doables right now for us, I guess.”
Do you take chances?
“You always have to take chances. That’s the hard thing. When the pressure cooker is turned up and the situation is where it is right now, you can afford to take chances, you need to be able to take those chances to enable you to get those stage points if you’re out – make a gain to try to get them. But there’s also a Catch-22 to every decision there, so you just have to lay it all out, focus on the task at hand, whether that’s a stage win or the second stage or the finish at the end – focus on that and let the rest take care of itself.”