The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway Sunday for the Food City 500 – one of its most popular stops on the circuit.
History has proven that jamming 40 drivers and cars on a .533-mile, high-banked oval with lap speeds at 130 mph leads to an exciting show for race fans and television viewers. It’s the type of short-track racing Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) No. 14 Haas Automation Ford driver Clint Bowyer prefers as a driver and as someone who has long been a NASCAR fan.
“You would have to really sell hard for me not to believe that short-track racing is our best product,” Bowyer said. “It just is, and the reason I say that is because it’s so much fun, so demanding inside the car. The workload is through the roof for the driver and the excitement is there for the fans.”
One of the by-products of short-track racing is the short tempers it often exposes among the competitors. Bowyer admits, during his 404 NASCAR Cup Series starts, he has been on both sides of arguments with fellow drivers when tempers boil over on short tracks. He says each driver is prepared to accept some beating and banging during the race, but the line of what is appropriate racing conduct can be blurry at times.
In fact, that line usually depends on the outcome.
“There’s nothing acceptable on a racetrack if you’re on the losing, short end of that stick,” Bowyer said with a laugh.
Bowyer said when you cross that line with another driver, then it’s up to you to fix it any way you can, even if there isn’t much hope for forgiveness.
“If you wrong somebody on any racetrack, you try your best to right that wrong immediately,” he said. “First thing, you push that push-to-talk button and have your spotter go down there and take the butt-chewing for you and apologize on your behalf. But that doesn’t work. You just hope that if something happens, he’s not going to be able to get it fixed and get back out there and repay you before you have a chance for him to think about it and get over it, maybe, until next week.”
Often more steps are required.
“You try to reach out to him and do all the cheesy stuff you hear us talk about,” he said. “You know that he doesn’t care, doesn’t want to talk to you. The hardest part is calling to apologize to somebody on a Monday morning, knowing damn well he either isn’t going to answer you or could care less what you say. He just really wants to punch you in the face and get it over with.”
Bowyer hopes after 500 laps around Bristol Sunday afternoon, he’ll be holding the winner’s trophy in victory lane instead of worrying about making or taking apology phone calls. He has raced well at Bristol in his career, posting six top-five finishes and 10 top-10s while leading 137 laps in his 22 races.
He and his SHR team arrive in Tennessee on a hot streak. The No. 14 Ford has posted six consecutive top-13 finishes and climbed to ninth in the standings. This season, Bowyer replaced three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition.
Bowyer said he appreciates the early success his new team has enjoyed, but quickly points out there is room for improvement.
“There is nothing in this sport at this level that comes easy,” Bowyer said. “It doesn’t matter the racetrack or circumstances, it is always hard because there is always the next guy working every bit as hard to accomplish the same goal.”
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you think about Stewart-Haas Racing after seven races in 2017?
“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, whether it was my first opportunity in this sport or my last, to drive for this manufacturer, Ford, and the support they are giving us – everyone at Stewart-Haas, the management and sponsors and my teammates. You don’t put enough emphasis on the impact a good teammate can have on you. Drivers capable of winning races and championships. I have two championship-winning drivers (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch) as teammates. Danica (Patrick), everything she brings for our entire sport, let alone the company. This is the opportunity you are giddy about no matter where you are at in your career.”
Why do you like short-track racing?
“You’re really wheeling that thing, trying to keep the grip under your tires, forward bite. Trying to keep the thing turning. Fighting the balance of the cars. Fighting your crew chief all race long because you’re whining in the car, and he is tired of hearing you whine. But all those things come together to win that race and be successful.”