Clint Bowyer made his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at ISM Raceway in Phoenix on April 23, 2005, driving for Bill McAnally and Richard Childress. He started 25th and finished 22nd, one lap behind race-winner Kurt Busch.
Busch and his brother Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick are the only current drivers who were in the field for Bowyer’s Phoenix debut in 2005 who will likely race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway Sunday when Bowyer makes his 500th Cup Series start driving the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil Delvac 1 Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR.)
“It’s hard to believe this is the 500th start,” said the 40-year-old Bowyer, who is in his third year driving for SHR. “I have had a lot of help and support over the years, from the people who helped me get started in the early days in Kansas through all the NASCAR teams and sponsors I have worked with over the years. I have been very fortunate and very grateful for the career I’ve been able to enjoy.”
It’s been a successful career.
In his 499 Cup starts coming into this weekend, Bowyer has enjoyed 10 Cup Series victories, 80 top-five finishes, 211 top-10s, three poles, 2,939 laps led and three top-five finishes in the season standings. He also owns eight NASCAR Xfinity Series and three NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victories, as well as the Xfinity Series title in 2008.
“This sport has undergone a lot of changes since I’ve become a part of it and we’ve had a lot of driver turnover in the last 15 years or so,” he said, “but I am still as big of fan of NASCAR as I was the day I first walked into the garage.”
There won’t be much nostalgia in the No. 14 camp this weekend because there’s a tremendous amount of work to do at Talladega. Bowyer arrives at the second of the three-race Round of 12 portion of the NASCAR playoffs 10th in points.
He is just four points behind the eighth and final transfer spot with only Talladega and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City remaining in the round. Last week at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Bowyer raced at the front of the field before finishing 10th and moving from 12th to 10th in the standings.
He knows he is one of the favorites at Talladega this weekend. In the last two superspeedway races, Bowyer has been at the front of the field when an accident ruined his day. In 27 career starts at Talladega, he owns two victories, seven top-fives and 13 top-10s.
Bowyer hopes for a repeat of last year’s race at Talladega, when SHR dominated the weekend. After sweeping the top four spots in qualifying, SHR drivers Bowyer, Harvick, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola led 155 of the 193 laps during the race, often running all four Fords nose to tail in their own lead pack. Almirola and Bowyer swept the top-two finishing positions, Almirola’s victory ensuring all four SHR cars earned trips to victory lane in 2018.
“That was about as good as it gets in NASCAR,” Bowyer said. “We had the speed. Doug Yates and all of his team at Roush-Yates Engines gave us great power. Our chassis shop and the aero department were amazing because those Fords stuck to the track like glue. As the tires started wearing out, people started falling off. We didn’t. We were able to hold it wide open and stay in a line, and stay in that wake of the car in front of you, and we drove off from the field. It was cool to look in the mirror and see that train of Fords behind you.”
He said that performance meant a lot for SHR.
“That day completed our organization, you know what I mean?,” Bowyer said. “Aric’s victory put all four cars in victory lane for the year and set a precedent for SHR that ‘We’re here.’ That was big for our organization. Heck, that would have been big for any organization. And for us to do that in SHR’s 10th anniversary year made it special.”
Bowyer, says that your attitude is the difference in being successful at Talladega or not.
“Attitude is a big part of this, but it goes toward being a student while you’re out there, learning as much as you can. That’s the tricky thing about these situations at these racetracks.”
The other factor in this is trying to hold back or not. When do you make your move?
“You get a little bit excited and antsy to get up into the pack and, even with 50, 60 laps to go, you’re like, ‘How am I going to get up there?’ They get three-wide and there’s just literally no place to go. At Talladega, you can go four-wide, and I’ve seen when it goes five-wide you get into a wreck. We see that quite a bit there – somebody attempting it – and that’s when it gets that place exciting. Looking forward to hopefully getting to the end and, more importantly, getting a win.”
So, does this make Sunday’s race a high speed chess match?
“Hell no! Chess is sitting there, bored out of your mind, thinking of all the other things that you would rather be doing. There’s a guy across from you, you’re trying to figure out if he’s actually into it or doing the same thing, bored out of his mind, thinking about all the things he would rather be doing. At Talladega, you’re literally freaking out, making knee-jerk-reaction decisions the whole race. You’re reacting to things that you don’t even remember. You’ll get out of the car at the end of the race and somebody’ll be like, ‘Man, that was an awesome move that won you the race!’ And you’re like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ There were at least 4,000 instances of what won that race or didn’t win that race.
“There’s so much going on inside the car, whether you’re listening to the spotter, or you’re looking at – as you’re listening to him, you’re following along to – that story in the mirror, right? You’re living it through the windshield. I mean, there are so many things that are going on, you just – you flat out – don’t take it all in. I mean, your brain is registering so many things that, at the end of the race, you don’t even remember half of it.”