Who has the best average finish in the last six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series road course races?
Take a minute to think about it.
Since this is the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) advance, the likely guess would be Clint Bowyer.
And that is correct. Really!
The former body shop employee and dirt track racer from Emporia, Kansas, who hadn’t seen much of any road course until he joined the NASCAR ranks, is at the top of the list.
In his 28 career starts on road courses at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and the “roval” at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Bowyer has earned a victory, 11 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s.
“Not in a million years would I have imagined this success,” said Bowyer, who has a theory on why he and all other Cup Series drivers have improved their road-course racing skills over the last several years.
“I think a big part of it is engineering,” he said. “They came into this sport – our engineers were able to get our cars underneath us way better than we could before. Those ringers would go test time and time again all over the place, all sorts of different racetracks, in preparation for these one or two races. And, when we’d get there, our focus is on those mile-and-a-half tracks that make up the biggest part of the season. That’s a big difference. When we get here and we’re on the same playing field as they are, I feel like I’m proud to say the Cup regulars are holding their own.”
Some of Bowyer’s best road-course work has come since joining SHR in 2017. He climbed in the No. 14 driver’s seat when three-time champion Tony Stewart retired from NASCAR competition. In the six road-course races since joining SHR, Bowyer owns an average finish of 5.8 – the best of any driver who has competed in each of those races. Bowyer owns top-five finishes in four of the six road-course races since 2017 and hasn’t finished outside the top-11. That 5.8 average finish is even more impressive when considering his teammate Kevin Harvick is next best with an average finish of 7.5 in those races.
“That’s pretty cool and shows the quality of Fords the folks at SHR have been building for us,” Bowyer said. “When we go to road courses, we expect to be at the top of the chart each time.”
All this Bowyer trivia comes into play this weekend when the Cup Series races at Watkins Glen in Sunday’s GoBowling at the Glen in the second of three road courses on the 2019 schedule. With those numbers, Bowyer will obviously be a driver to watch when the green flag drops Sunday afternoon.
Bowyer warns there’s very little comparison between the high speeds of the Watkins Glen track and Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where Bowyer finished 11th on June 23. Watkins Glen is all about rhythm and timing that lead to its higher speeds.
“There is such a sensation of speed at Watkins Glen,” Bowyer said. “It is a wild racetrack and you have to be on your toes. If you slip up the least little bit, you are not only going to crash, you are going to crash hard. I think of it like this – Sonoma is like a short track and Watkins Glen is like a superfast, 1.5-mile track. That’s the speed difference.”
Bowyer has lots of motivation this weekend as he arrives in Upstate New York 15th in the NASCAR standings. With only four races remaining in the regular season and only 16 spots available, Bowyer leads the 17th-place driver by 12 points and trails the 10th-place driver by 82 points.
He arrives at Watkins Glen after finishing 11th last weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, where he started 13th and ran in the top-10 most of the day before restarting 20th in overtime and driving to 11th.
Bowyer will have a few extra family and fans in the grandstands this weekend at Watkins Glen. Bowyer’s wife Lorra is a native of Pen Yann, New York – a town of 5,000 people about 25 miles north of the track. Bowyer has spent considerable time in the area over the years.
“I love this place,” he said. “There are so many lakes and the area is so beautiful. Not sure I want to spend winters here but, when we visit, we have a good time.”
Bowyer will carry the decals of Rush Truck Centers and Haas Automation this weekend in New York. 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 Gene 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.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Why is road-course racing in NASCAR becoming more popular?
“It’s just a hell of a show for the fans, the television audience and even the drivers. Man, they’re just so difficult. They’re so out of the ordinary. There are so many opportunities. That’s the thing about a road course – that there are not a lot of good opportunities to pass, but there are a lot of opportunities. If somebody makes a mistake, like if you catch pit road as a caution’s coming out, there are just so many things to capitalize on one of those road courses.”
What are the differences between the Watkins Glen, Sonoma and Charlotte road courses?
“You are way more at ease at Sonoma. It’s a finesse, rear-grip, take-care-of-your-tires type of track. I think it is a much more technical track. When you go to Watkins Glen, it’s a ton of fun but it’s a whole different beast. It’s wide-open. It’s balls-to-the-wall. You have to be extremely good on braking and have a fast racecar. Both of them are a ton of fun and so unique. That is the thing. We race and chase each other in circles non-stop. It is refreshing to have a break like this when we come to these road courses. The consequences just seem far greater at Watkins Glen than they are at Sonoma. If you hit at Sonoma, it’s like, ‘Man that hurt.’ You hit at Watkins Glen, you might be telling ’em about it a couple days later when it comes back to you. From the time you pull out on the track at Charlotte, to the time you get off, it’s just sketchy. You are just tip-toeing. There’s no room for error at all. The grip level isn’t there. If you get to sliding a little bit getting in there and you look over at them tires, you realize there’s no room. If that thing gets out from under you, you are going to be in the fence and you are going to be in it hard. It’s not something (your car is) going to limp away from.”