Playoff time is finally here and Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Toco Warranty Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is on a roll.
Three consecutive top-seven finishes moved Bowyer from outside to inside the playoffs and prepared him for the most important stretch of the season. The first round of NASCAR’s 10-race, 16-driver playoffs begin this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
For Bowyer it’s the moment he’s circled since trekking to Las Vegas for a January preseason test of the sport’s new rules package.
“With all the rules changes and everything in 2019, we started a little bit slow out of the box, but everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) put their heads down and we’ve been running better of late with three top-seven finishes,” said Bowyer, who finished second in the playoffs once and in the top-five three times during his career.
“This weekend is where it all begins,” he continued. “It’s a new season. There’s nothing routine about what starts this weekend in Las Vegas. The pay window is open and it’s time we start racing for a championship. It’s why we are here and why I joined this organization.”
Bowyer begins the playoffs 15th in the reset standings with 2,000 points thanks to a fifth-place finish in last Sunday’s final regular-season race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. To advance to Round 2 of the playoffs, Bowyer needs to remain in the top-12 in points through Round 1. That makes running well Sunday at Las Vegas, Sept. 21 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, and Sept. 29 on the road course at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway imperative to a chance for the title.
“I’ve always thought the first round is the toughest,” he said. “You have to be ready to go right out of the box. You can’t have any mistakes. You sure as heck can’t afford to get behind.”
Bowyer might not have had the regular season he wanted, but it wasn’t a bad year. He earned six top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 26 regular-season races. But the regular season is over and he has a simple strategy for this year’s playoffs.
“We have 10 races, and look at the last three races where they have been single-digit finishes for us,” Bowyer said. “That will get you a round or maybe two and builds confidence and momentum with our race team. That is what it takes. We are doing the right things and putting ourselves in the right situations to capitalize on other people’s mishaps instead of being the one that makes the mishap.”
He’ll lead a three-Mustang contingent of SHR driver in the playoffs as he joins teammates Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola. Daniel Suarez fell just four points shy of earning a playoff berth. It would have marked the second consecutive year SHR place all four drivers in the playoffs.
At Las Vegas this weekend, Bowyer will carry the colors of Toco Warranty, whose Toco All-Star Sweepstakes offers fans a chance to get to Homestead. One lucky winner and guest will attend the season finales of the World of Outlaws World Finals Nov. 8 to 9 at The Dirt Track near Charlotte, North Carolina, as guests of Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) before jetting off to South Florida to see the NASCAR season finale Nov. 16 and 17 in Homestead with Bowyer and SHR.
To register, fans simply need to go to www.TocoWarranty.com. A winner will be drawn this weekend.
Toco Warranty partnered with SHR and TSR earlier this year. The provider of pay-as-you-go vehicle repair coverage is a primary partner of Bowyer and the No. 14 team of SHR and the co-primary partner of Donny Schatz and TSR’s No. 15 Winged Sprint car. Toco Warranty is also an associate sponsor of Tony Stewart, who is competing in more than 90 Winged Sprint car races this year.
Bowyer hopes he can create lots of attention for Toco at the fast, 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval. It marks his 15th start at Las Vegas, where he owns a top-five finish and four top-10s in 14 races. Bowyer finished 14th when the Cup Series last visited the 1.5-mile oval in March.
“All that doesn’t matter anymore,” Bowyer said. “The next 10 races will define everyone’s season.”
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Toco Warranty Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
SHR nearly put four cars in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Your thoughts on that?
“It was super close to getting all four in. Look how good Kevin (Harvick) is right now – a dominant run with him and the 4 car at Indy. We have to keep building, man. We are working hard and digging and trying to get better. We are by no means the fastest group right now and we know that but we looked pretty damn fast at Indy. Aric has had a great season and Daniel just barely missed.”
How was your Las Vegas race in March?
“That was a tough afternoon for us. We made a lot of changes throughout the weekend, but we fought tight most of the race. We trimmed our car out and got it a bit better, but it was tough to pass – real tough.”