It’s been an impressive few opening chapters in what should be a long history book for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
The Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team has won 51 times in 1,188 races since its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 2009. The organization owned by Gene Haas and three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart has notched championships with Stewart in 2011 and Kevin Harvick in 2014.
SHR celebrated its first Daytona 500 victory in 2017 when Kurt Busch took the checkered flag, and each SHR driver made the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs while combining for 12 victories. SHR drivers have won at every active track on the Cup Series tour except one: Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, where the series races Saturday night in the Kentucky 400.
No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford Mustang driver Clint Bowyer would like to write his name in the SHR record book by bringing home a trophy from the 1.5-mile track about 40 miles southwest of Cincinnati.
“We’d like to check that box off our list,” said Bowyer, who’s earned two of his 10 career victories at SHR. “That’s a significant accomplishment. As competitive as this series is, to have won at every track is pretty rare. That’s a testament to the quality of work done back at our shop and the drivers who’ve driven these cars over the years.”
SHR has come close several times at Kentucky posting four top-fives and 11 top-10s in 27 races. Bowyer has raced well at Kentucky but only has one top-five to show for it in eight career starts.
“Kentucky has always been hit or miss for me,” he said. “Sometimes I hit it and sometimes I miss it. I don’t know why. I’ve had really strong runs there and other times I’ve just struggled for grip. I feel like I am on pins and needles there.”
Bowyer arrives at Kentucky after finishing 34th Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where he started 16th and raced among the leaders throughout the event, even leading three laps. As rain approached with just 35 laps remaining, Bowyer made a bid for the lead before leader Austin Dillon attempted to block, triggering a multicar accident.
The finish moved Bowyer to 15th in the playoff standings with just eight races remaining before the start of the 16-driver playoffs Sept. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With the playoffs nearing, a good run is a must for Bowyer at Kentucky, and he knows the track’s biggest challenge as well as anyone.
“Kentucky is a very tricky track,” he said. “It’s very fast. It’s very unique in the sense that both ends of the track are very different. The entrance to turn three is what sticks out to me when you think of Kentucky. That turn is so deceiving, and it entices you to drive in way too deep. That’s because it’s so flat that the car wants to get really loose getting in there. All of a sudden you’ve got to really slow it down, and the exit opens up a lot into that dogleg. You carry a tremendous amount of speed through turns one and two, which is what gets you into trouble going into turn three.”
Bowyer will likely be a factor in the Bluegrass State, where his No. 14 Mustang will carry the decals of Rush Truck Centers and Haas Automation this weekend.
Rush Truck Centers has been the primary partner on the No. 14 team since Bowyer arrived at SHR in 2017 and has been with the organization since 2010. The Texas-based company has used Bowyer and the team to appeal to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 22 states. According to Rush Truck Centers, the trucking industry is expected to need 200,000 diesel technicians over the next 10 years to keep up with maintenance demands. Rush Truck Centers wants to make NASCAR fans aware of these opportunities.
Haas Automation is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. Founded by Haas in 1983, Haas Automation manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are built in the company’s 1.1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.
Haas is hoping to see his company’s own logos in victory lane in Kentucky to complete the sweep for his race team of all the sport’s active tracks.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts about Kentucky Speedway?
“Kentucky is a fun racetrack and a really fun crowd. Since I’ve been going there back to the Xfinity days, Kentucky always has a good crowd and a great turnout. As challenging as it us for the drivers the track is a great place for fans.”
What are your thoughts on the 2016 repaving at Kentucky?
“The brutal honesty of a repave is, for whatever reason, the first race after the repave is always the worst race. It gets better each race afterward. The grip level is so high and you are going so fast, it’s a challenge to create side-by-side racing with a lot of passes. The silver lining is it’s only going to get better from now on.”