Clint Bowyer drove by a lot of cars Sunday as he raced in the top-10 most of the day before late trouble left him with a 17th-place finish in the NASCAR Cup Series’ return to competition in The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
“Man, that was a bummer,” Bowyer said after the race.
“We were pretty damn good all race long until the money was on the line. Then things fell apart very quickly.”
It marked the first Cup Series race since March 8 and ran under a comprehensive health and safety plan that permitted no fans, limited crew, strict social distancing, and mandated personal protective equipment and health screenings for all.
Sunday looked like it could have been a great day for Bowyer, who started 13th and drove to seventh by the end of Stage 1. He kept that speed and finished fifth in Stage 2. It appeared he would battle for victory as he raced in sixth with 60 laps remaining, but a loose-handling car late in the run combined with several issues left him with a 17th-place finish.
While the finish was disappointing, Bowyer moved from 13th to 10th in the standings.
The 40-year-old Emporia, Kansas, native not only passed cars on the track Sunday but also passed a lot of trucks on the road during his 300-mile commute between his Mocksville, North Carolina, home and the Darlington track.
“It was kind of cool to drive to Darlington and see all of the trucks driving up and down the highway,” Bowyer said. “That kind of reminds you that things are still moving in America. Businesses are shipping and truckers are bringing people what they need to live their lives.”
He hopes to see that again Wednesday when he commutes to and from Darlington for NASCAR’s 500-kilometer – 310-mile – race that evening.
Just as it did on Sunday, Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will again carry Rush Truck Centers and Mobil Delvac 1 decals at Darlington, as well as the special social media hashtag #ThankATrucker.
The hashtag calls attention to the men and women transporting goods and providing a public service. Rush Truck Centers is considered an essential business by the government with its more than 100 dealerships operating across the country. Mobil Delvac 1 heavy-duty diesel engine oils are designed to help commercial fleets boost uptime. Mobil Delvac 1 oils can help deliver fuel economy savings, extend the life of engines and lengthen oil drain intervals.
“There are lots of heroes right now, but I hope NASCAR fans will take the time to thank a trucker,” said Bowyer, whose No. 14 Ford Mustang includes several corporate partners heavily involved in the trucking industry, like Rush Truck Centers, Mobil Delvac 1, PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant, as well as Cummins.
According to the American Trucking Associations, there are more than 700,000 trucking businesses in the country, employing 7.8 million people, including 3.5 million truck drivers. More than 36 million trucks log 297 billion miles per year, moving 71 percent of the nation’s freight.
“Whatever you have at your house or business, a trucker probably played a role in getting it to you,” Bowyer said.
Before Bowyer returns to Darlington on Wednesday where he will start fourth, he’ll join Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip in the FOX Charlotte studio to broadcast Tuesday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington. Bowyer, the 2008 Xfinity Series champion, joined FOX as an analyst and studio guest this season.
His schedule only gets busier after Wednesday night’s Cup Series race as the series then moves to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, followed by a 500-kilometer race at Charlotte on May 24. The schedule also includes recently announced stops at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on May 31, Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 7, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on June 10, Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway on June 14, and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on July 21.
While everyone is glad for the return of live racing, SHR wasn’t idle during the hiatus between the March 8 Phoenix and Sunday’s return at Darlington.
The organization co-owned by Gene Haas and three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart has been building ICU webcam carts for Novant Health. The team began building a prototype cart in mid-April for use in hospital intensive care units. SHR recently delivered 10 of its ICU webcam carts to Novant Health with the plan to build 110 units over the coming weeks for use across Novant Health’s integrated system of physician practices, hospitals and outpatient centers.
In support of the Real Heroes Project, a collaborative initiative by 14 sports leagues, Wednesday’s race will again honor health care workers serving on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford will carry the name of Josie Fongoh, RN, from the emergency department of the Novant Health Mint Hill (S.C.) Medical Center. The 38-year-old Charlottean has been working in health care in North Carolina since 2012 after moving to the United States from Cameroon, Africa. She began her career as a certified nurse assistant before obtaining her license as a registered nurse. She has experience in hemodialysis, rehabilitation, and currently in emergency nursing. She is recognized as a compassionate and skilled nurse providing emergency care at the Mint Hill facility since 2018. She recently completed her master’s program as a Family Nurse Practitioner and is entering the next phase of her health care career in internal medicine.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil Delvac 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What was Sunday in Darlington like?
“Once you get into the car, it’s normally business as usual and it was really that way in Darlington. Was it weird driving down there by yourself, walking to the car with no fans and no atmosphere? Yes, and it sucked. But once you got in the car, it was pretty normal. Those racecars don’t know if there are fans there or if there is a pandemic going on or not. You still have to keep four tires on the track and go as fast as you can.”
Was there any “rust?”
“Not nearly as much as I thought. We set a good pace in the first run. Within six or seven laps, I was comfortable and ripping it 100 percent.”
What did you learn for Wednesday night’s race?
“We learned a lot about the balance of our racecar. There were some adjustments we will do again and there are some adjustments we won’t do again. It was just our fifth race as a team and we’re still working on our communication. Communication plays a big factor in deciding the adjustments you make.”
Is there a difference between day and night races at Darlington?
“The night races are always different. One of the things that caught us off guard is, typically at Darlington, you get tighter as the race goes on, but we got looser. We are trying to decipher why that was with our setup and, again, what happens when it cools off even more Wednesday. Plus we have weather moving in Wednesday at Darlington. We have to keep an eye on that storm and understand what the track conditions are going to be like and make the best decisions possible.”
Why should race fans tune in Tuesday to watch you as part of the FOX broadcast team announcing the Xfinity race?
“I’m excited about Tuesday night and working the Xfinity race. This series is always awesome to watch. There’s a great mix of veterans with a lot of experience and rookies without much experience who are in really good, fast hot rods. That’s always a recipe for massive entertainment, especially on a track that’s as hard to get around as Darlington. I think the sparks will fly.”