Throughout his career, Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), admits to having a love-hate relationship with Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races on Sunday. The flat, concrete, half-mile track was far from one of the Emporia, Kansas driver’s favorites when he started his Cup career.
“When I first went there the first couple of seasons in the sport, that was the one racetrack that I couldn’t wait to leave – I was terrible, I hated it, every aspect of it,” Bowyer said. “Everything in your natural tendencies as a racecar driver doesn’t hold true there. Alright, I have to pass this guy in front of me. Well, I have to get in the corner deeper than him, I have to pick up the gas sooner than him, and both of those things took me about 27 times there before I ever figured it out.”
But he did.
“Believe it or not, Martinsville has become a place I look forward to,” Bowyer said. “We’ve focused hard on Martinsville, studied it, tested a lot of tracks in preparation for Martinsville, and worked on really getting a good setup underneath us. We’ve taken that and have been solid ever since.”
He’s even come close to bringing home a grandfather clock Martinsville presents the race winner, but he’s yet to add one to his trophy case. He led 154 laps during the fall 2012 race amid a string of five consecutive top-10s at Martinsville. He owns four top-five finishes and 13 top-10s and has led 356 laps at the southern Virginia track.
“I’ve run really well at Martinsville and there have been several times when I thought we were the fastest car, especially in 2012 and 2013,” Bowyer said. “I look forward to it every year and it’s one track I feel like I can win at, especially if the equipment is underneath me and we make good calls and I make good decisions and take care of the car on the racetrack. I want to bring one of those clocks home.”
Sunday’s race marks the second time Bowyer visits Martinsville driving a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. In April, Bowyer started eighth and climbed as high as fourth in the closing laps before finishing seventh. Martinsville is a historically good track for the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team. SHR owns three victories – Ryan Newman in April 2012, Tony Stewart in October 2011 and Kurt Busch in March 2014 – six top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in 50 starts at Martinsville, and SHR cars have led 504 laps there.
Bowyer could use a little luck after the last three weeks. Accidents by other drivers collected Bowyer at Charlotte, Talladega and Kansas, ruining his chances for a good finish. Last week in his return to his home state, Bowyer raced in the top-five late in the race before a multicar accident wounded the No. 14 and left him with a 19th-place finish.
It hasn’t been all bad luck in 2017 for Bowyer, who is in his first season with SHR after replacing three-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14, led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. The team has posted three second-place finishes and two third-place finishes but narrowly missed earning one of 16 berths in NASCAR’s playoffs. Bowyer’s average finish of 15.4 is 10th best of the fulltime drivers this season.
Despite the success, Bowyer says the goal this year is a return trip to victory lane. With only four races remaining in the 2017 season, Bowyer is running out of chances to visit victory lane with his new team.
“We’re hungry and we’re trying,” Bowyer said. “That’s the frustrating thing about looking back on the year. We’re getting close to the end and it’s just been that way all season long. When you look back and I look back at my history, consistency has always been what got me and kept me in the running. And this year has been a really solid run. A second (place) or something followed up by two steps back. It seems like you get on a roll – I think the biggest roll we got on was like three or four races. Back in the day, we could click off maybe as many as 10 and really march up through the points and gain that confidence and everything that goes with it.”
Nothing would increase that confidence more than bringing home a grandfather clock from Martinsville after Sunday’s race.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on Martinsville?
“I love going to Martinsville. It’s a great racetrack with a lot of history. Martinsville has been hosting races for half a century and all the greats have raced there over the years. It really is a throwback in a lot of ways. It’s a flat short track like most of us grew up racing on. It’s tight, flat and fenders definitely get used. It always puts on an exciting show for the fans and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. As a fan of the sport, I don’t know how you can’t like Martinsville. And, in a lot of ways, it’s almost turned into the new go-to track for action and excitement. It doesn’t have the high banks like Bristol, but the racing, bumping, banging and all the fun stuff the fans look for has been every bit as good as anywhere we’ve gone the past few years.”
Martinsville seems to be the most difficult track for drivers to figure out. Why is that?
“It’s a short track, but it’s not like any other short track you’ve ever been to. It goes against everything your tendencies tell you to do. You have to back the corner up and let the car roll way around the corner before you get back on the gas. Your tendencies are to get in the corner as deep as you can and get back on the throttle as fast as possible. Those are two things that are catastrophic there, so you’ve got to discipline yourself and stay disciplined throughout the race.”