It might have been one of the most surprising and enjoyable moments of Clint Bowyer’s long driving career and as dominant of a qualifying session anyone could ask for by his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team on Sept. 14 last year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Bowyer earned the third Busch pole of his career by leading a sweep of the top four spots by SHR Ford Mustang drivers.
“I’m as shocked as you are,’’ Bowyer said, laughing as he sat down to address reporters after the qualifying session.
“I’m extremely proud of the effort. We’re on the pole, but 1-2-3-4 for Stewart-Haas Racing, that says a lot about our focus.’’
Bowyer winning races isn’t unusual. He’s won 10 times in the Cup Series, eight in the Xfinity Series and three in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series.
But winning a Cup Series Busch pole is another matter.
The Las Vegas pole ended a streak of more than 4,380 days since Bowyer’s previous pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sept. 13, 2007. His first career pole came at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway earlier that 2007 season.
It’s not like Bowyer is a bad qualifier. He’s started second 12 times in his career, including at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City last May, and he did win the pole for the non-points-paying NASCAR All-Star Race last May at Charlotte (N. C) Motor Speedway.
Bowyer admitted he was excited in his normal self-deprecating way in Las Vegas last fall.
“I almost forgot what to do at a Busch pole ceremony,” Bowyer said. “I got to sign my name on some sheet that I don’t think I’ve ever signed before, so I got to brag a little bit. I rubbed it in to all those guys. Something’s wrong with them when I beat them to a pole.”
The pole ceremony turned out to be the highlight of the Las Vegas weekend as Bowyer struggled with handling during the race, falling down a lap to the leaders. He took the wave-around near the end of the race and returned to the lead lap in 16th with fresh tires. On a restart, Bowyer and Paul Menard made contact, forcing Bowyer to pit lane for new tires and dropping him to 30th. He climbed to 25th by the end of the race.
He’ll get a chance for another pole and to better that September finish this weekend when the Cup Series returns for Sunday’s Las Vegas 400. It marks the second race of the 2020 season.
Last weekend in the 62nd annual Daytona 500, Bowyer started 29th and rode in the back of the field until 30 laps remaining before he charged to the front. The No. 14 Ford was fifth at the start of the first overtime but damage from an accident on the restart ruined his chances for victory and left him with a sixth-place finish.
This weekend at Las Vegas, Bowyer will pilot the No. 14 BlueDEF® Ford. BlueDEF Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) is one of the key elements in the process used by diesel engine builders to meet environmental regulations. DEF is not a fuel or fuel additive. Instead, when injected into the exhaust stream and passed over a catalyst, DEF helps convert harmful gasses into nitrogen gas and water vapor – two harmless and natural components of the air we breathe.
The Las Vegas race will mark the first of three primary races this season for Bowyer with Old World Industries, the parent company of the PEAK and BlueDEF® brands. PEAK Coolant & Antifreeze will serve as the No. 14 team’s sponsor in April at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, and at Darlington in September.
PEAK’s legacy in motorsports spans 40 years and includes leading drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Michael Waltrip and Kyle Petty. Besides Bowyer’s No. 14 team, PEAK is a partner with the Haas F1 team with drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series and drag racing’s winningest driver John Force.
Bowyer believes the 2020 season starts with the West Coast Swing that begins Sunday in Las Vegas, continues to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and concludes at Phoenix Raceway.
“Daytona 500 is a race in its own,” Bowyer said. “That’s the one-time-a-year opportunity to win our Super Bowl. You have to put it all out there and do anything to win that race. Our season starts once we get out of Daytona and on to the West Coast. That’s the barometer of where everyone stacks up.
“The trickiest thing about the West Coast is you’re lying in the bed you made, so to speak. You race what you have the next three races. There isn’t much time to take your car back to the shop and work on the areas you’re struggling with. We can do all that once we get home from the West Coast. When you get back, you can reestablish where you’re at, get in the board room, get in the meeting rooms to start hashing out what worked, what didn’t, ‘Let’s go this direction.’ You know, start moving the ship together, pulling on the same rope.”
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 BlueDEF Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you remember about ending your streak of races without a pole at Las Vegas last September?
“I did not see it coming. That was a surprise to me. If I sat on the pole, that car was obviously a bullet.”
What is the mindset of drivers and the team after leaving Daytona?
“With the schedule changes this year, Las Vegas is the new Atlanta, being the first stop after the Daytona 500. Once we get the Daytona 500 out of the way, it’s Las Vegas and it’s down-to-business time. I know it’s weird to say that. Yes, the Daytona 500 is the first race of the year and certainly the biggest race of the year, but it’s so unique from any other racetrack. We get to Las Vegas and it’s that mile-and-a-half, fast track. The cars that are fast this weekend are likely the cars that will be fast all year. If you are going to run well in this sport, you have to be good at the mile-and-a-half tracks like Las Vegas. So these are pretty important races for all of us to see where we are at.”
Any predictions for the West Coast Swing?
“Somebody’s going hit it and somebody’s not. When you get back from that West Coast Swing, you get reestablished, you start down a build process for your cars and make them all the same, all across the board.”