Are Bowyer and his No. 14 Ford Team Championship Contenders?

In the days before Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams travelled to Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway for last weekend’s road race, television commentator Jeff Burton came up with an interesting take during a debate about which four drivers will comprise the Championship 4 at Miami in November.

 

Not surprisingly, most of the expert panel predicted Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) Kevin Harvick, along with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., will make up three of the four drivers who will battle for the championship in the season finale. The trio has won 12 of the 16 races in the 2018 season.

 

But the surprise of the debate came when Burton, himself a 21-time Cup Series race winner, predicted the fourth driver in the title battle.

 

“Whose that guy? I think it’s Clint Bowyer,” Burton said on NBC Sports. “I think about consistency. He isn’t a guy who might win six races a year, but he is always going to grind out finishes. Consistency is what he is good at. I think you are also seeing, at this point in his career, Bowyer adding a little more speed. He’s happy with his team and he and his crew chief get along. He’s having fun, enjoying what he is doing, and I think he is going to be that fourth guy.”

 

For his part, Bowyer isn’t ready to say he and his team are a lock for the Championship 4, but he did say the combination of SHR, Ford and Roush Yates Engines puts the No. 14 team in contention.

 

“It is a lethal package right now,” he said. “This is a humbling sport and I have been all over the place with it – high, low and everywhere in between. It just makes you appreciate the ride you are on right now and the group that I am around. We are hitting on all eight cylinders and getting the most out of our weekends and starting to get the consistency back that we were kind of lacking last year. The capability is there within the team. It is a team effort.”

 

Burton’s comments stirred debate on social media but, looking at Bowyer’s career record, is it really a surprise to include him in predictions for the final four playoff drivers?

 

Before arriving at SHR in 2017, Bowyer had finished in the top-five in the championship four times for two different organizations. In 2007, he finished third in the points driving for Richard Childress Racing and, in 2012, he finished second in the points driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. Before arriving in the Cup Series, Bowyer won an Xfinity Series title in 2008.

 

It was easy to sleep on Bowyer in recent years when he drove for a team going out of business and then with a small team without a history of success. Bowyer arrived at SHR in 2017 replacing three-time-champion Tony Stewart. Bowyer and his new team turned in a pretty solid year, posting the 11th-best average finish but couldn’t capture that elusive victory and fell just one spot short of making the playoffs.

 

Fast forward to 2018 and the No. 14 team has earned victories at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. It has posted five top-five finishes and sits sixth in the points despite accidents caused by other drivers at Talladega and Kansas that prevented good finishes.

 

Last weekend in Sonoma, Bowyer started 19th and drove as high as second before finishing third on the first of three road courses the Cup Series will see in 2018. With all four SHR drivers in the top eight, Sunday was the best collective finish for the organization since its inception in 2009.

 

There’s a lot of racing remaining before the playoffs and it begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, where Bowyer has earned seven top-10 finishes in 12 starts. His No. 14 Ford will carry the familiar black-and-yellow Wix paint scheme for the only time in 2018.

 

Sunday marks race 17 of 36 and, with only nine races remaining before the 2018 playoffs begin, it’s time to see whether Burton was right and Bowyer joins the Championship 4 in Miami.

 

CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Wix  Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on Chicagoland Speedway?

“Chicago has always been a cool racetrack. It is a sister track to my home track in Kansas and that fan base up there is that Midwestern fan base I feel most comfortable with, and I enjoy going to that racetrack and interacting with them in the infield and everything else. Again, we are fortunate to be able to race all over the country and see different people in different ways of life.”

 

What will it take to be a championship contender?

“To be able to compete at that level, you have to be able to unload week in, week out with cars capable of getting the job done. Most of that is the work that’s put in before the week even starts. It’s working months ahead preparing that car for any given weekend. Then it’s the communication leading into the race. Then it’s communication through Friday, through qualifying, through Saturday’s practice sessions, and collectively putting that all together for Sunday. You have to knock on that door week in and week out. You have to build that notebook so you can start the playoffs and run in the top-five every single week. That will put you at the end.”

 

Are you and the No. 14 at that level?

“We’re starting to do that. We’re starting that notebook that we all talk about. It’s finally starting to resonate to where you can look at it. Like, I can go back and look at last year. All right, I remember that. We’re not going to do that. We’ll be better there. We have to learn from that mistake, so on and so forth. Those are the things we’re starting to pick up on.”

 

Are you optimistic?

“We are getting better at the No. 14. The thing I love the most about the season is we start going back to these races for the second time in the playoffs. That notebook is even bigger for us because our cars have been unloading fast. Now, it’s just fine-tuning. It’s not that massive, overall change of setups you have to do going into one of those playoff races.”

Notes of Interest:
  • Bowyer owns career totals of 10 wins, two poles, 68 top-five finishes, 188 top-10s and 2,668 laps led in 448 NASCAR Cup Series races. He also owns eight Xfinity Series victories.
    • His most recent Cup Series victory came at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn (June 10, 2018)
    • His most recent Cup Series pole came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon (Sept. 16, 2007).
  • The 2018 season marks the 10th anniversary of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). The Kannapolis, North-Carolina-based team is co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas andhas recorded 46 points-paying victories and 39 poles since its inception in 2009. It also owns three non-points victories in the Cup Series and two Xfinity Series victories. Stewart won the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series title and Kevin Harvick gave SHR its second title in 2014. SHR’s Kurt Busch won last year’s Daytona 500, and Harvick has won five times in 2018 while Bowyer owns two victories this season.
  • Bowyer at Chicagoland: He’s earned one top-five finish and seven top-10s in 12 starts.
  • Bowyer at Chicagoland in 2017: Bowyer started 11th and finished 13th. He reported brake issues early in the race and lost a lap to the leaders in the first stage before regaining the lap prior to the start of the second stage. He stayed on the lead lap in the second stage, finishing 13th. Despite breaking into the top-10 in the final stage, he finished 13th, falling off the lead lap in the race’s final laps.
  • SHR has one Cup Series victory at Chicagoland (Stewart in 2011) and has six top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 27 starts. SHR cars have led 243 laps.
  • Best Season Ever, So Far: Bowyer’s average finish in 2018 is 10.2. His best career average finish at season’s end was 10.9 in 2012 at Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer won three races and finished second in the points that season.
  • SHR Best Ever at Sonoma: Sunday’s finish of Harvick second, Bowyer third, Kurt Busch sixth and Aric Almirola eighth at Sonoma is the second time SHR has placed all four of its drivers in the top-10 in a single race. The last time was March 11 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix. Sunday was the best collective finish for SHR since its inception in 2009.
  • SHR Sweep: SHR’s sweep of first, second and third place June 10 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn was a first for the organization founded in 2009. It marked the first time a Cup Series team had swept the top-three positions since September 2008, when Roush Fenway Racing swept the podium at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
  • Off-Weekend Motivation: There are only three off weekends on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and Bowyer has already won the week before each of the first two. His victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on March 26 preceded the first off weekend and his victory Sunday preceded the second off-weekend. Bowyer is hoping he can complete the trifecta by winning the Aug. 18 race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway that precedes the final off weekend of the season.
  • All-Time Victory List: Bowyer’s 10 career victories put him in a 59th-place tie on the all-time wins list with Donnie Allison and Sterling Marlin.
  • Crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz is in his third season as a Cup Series crew chief. He oversaw Stewart’s final campaign in 2016 and his pit strategy played a key role in Stewart’s victory at Sonoma in June 2016. Bugarewicz and Bowyer’s first season together in 2017 saw the duo post the 11th-best average finish of all full-time teams. In 2018 they earned their first victory together winning at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March. His two-tire call minutes before a caution combined with Bowyer’s aggressive driving at Michigan last Sunday earned the duo its second victory of the 2018 season. The Lehighton, Pennsylvania native served as the lead engineer on SHR’s No. 4 entry in 2014 and 2015. The Penn State University graduate was the only rookie crew chief to be part of the Cup Series playoffs in 2016.
  • Buga Calls: Bugarewicz has made two race-winning strategy calls in his career at SHR. In 2016 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Bugarewicz pitted Stewart from midpack before most of the leaders made their final stop of the race. A caution a few laps later moved Stewart to the front of the field, allowing the three-time champion to put on a classic driving display in a closing-laps battle with Denny Hamlin to win his 49th and final Cup Series race. At Michigan last weekend, he called for a two-tire stop when the rest of the leaders did four, moving Bowyer from third place to first. Bowyer held off a hard-charging Harvick for the win.
  • Bowyer’s Hometown of Emporia, Kansas is about a 90-minute drive southwest of Kansas Speedway. Emporia, with a population of 25,000, is home to Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College. In 1953, Emporia was the site of the first Veterans Day observance in the United States. At the urging of local shoe cobbler Alvin J. King, U.S. Representative Edward Rees introduced legislation in The United States Congress to rename Armistice Day as Veterans Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Oct. 8, 1954.
  • Bowyer’s Paternal Grandfather: Dale E. Bowyer was a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Army. He won the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism while fighting the armed enemy in Germany during World War II. The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army. It is awarded for extraordinary heroism. While leading his platoon under heavy fire in an attack near Sinz, Germany, on Jan. 25, 1945, Lt. Bowyer was severely wounded by an enemy mine. He refused evacuation even though both feet were shattered. He shouted instructions and encouragement where he lay. Inspired by his bravery, the men re-formed, moved clear of the mine field and continued the advance. Only then did Lt. Bowyer allow himself to be evacuated, crawling clear of the mine field to avoid injury to people. “His devotion to duty and to his men, and his courage and fearless determination, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service,” read the commendation he received. Lt. Bowyer eventually lost a leg due to his injuries. After his career in the Army, he lived in Iola, Kansas, and worked in the dairy business. He passed away in June 1974. Bowyer never met his grandfather.
  • Bowyer’s Best Finishes at SHR (2017-2018):
    • Wins
      • Michigan International Speedway (June 10, 2018)
      • Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (March 26, 2018)
    • 2nd place: 
      • Dover (Del.) International Speedway (May 6, 2018)
      • Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (April 24, 2017)
      • Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway (June 25, 2017)
      • Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (July 1, 2017)
    • 3rd place: 
      • Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway (June 24, 2018)
      • Atlanta Motor Speedway (Feb. 25, 2018)
      • Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (March 26, 2017)
      • Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (Oct. 29, 2017)
  • Bowyer’s Stage Victories In 2017
    • Pocono (Pa.) Raceway Stage 2 (July 30, 2017)
  • Bowyer Cup Series Career Victories:
    • Michigan International Speedway (June 10, 2018)
    • Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (March 26, 2018)
    • Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway (Oct. 13, 2012)
    • Richmond (Va.) International Raceway (Sept. 8, 2012)
    • Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway (June 24, 2012)
    • Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (Oct. 23, 2011)
    • Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (Oct. 31, 2010)
    • New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon (Sept. 19, 2010)
    • Richmond International Raceway (May 3, 2008)
    • New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon (Sept. 16, 2007)
  • Bowyer Cup Series Career Poles:
    • New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon (Sept. 14, 2007)
    • Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (May 11, 2007)
  • Bowyer Career Cup Series Points Finishes:
    • 2017 18th
    • 2016 27th
    • 2015 16th
    • 2014 19th
    • 2013 7th
    • 2012 2nd
    • 2011 13th
    • 2010 10th
    • 2009 15th
    • 2008   5th ​
    • 2007   3rd
    • 2006 17th
  • Bowyer Cup Series Career Stops:
    • 2017- Present Stewart-Haas Racing
    • ​2016  HScott Motorsports
    • 2012-2015  Michael Waltrip Racing
    • 2006-2011 Richard Childress Racing
  • Bowyer Xfinity Series Championship:
    • 2008
  • Bowyer Xfinity Series Career Victories:
    • Dover (Del.) International Speedway (Sept. 26, 2009)
    • Daytona (Fla) International Speedway (July 3, 2009)
    • Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (March 15, 2008)
    • Richmond (Va.) International Raceway (May 4, 2007)
    • Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway in Avondale (April 20, 2007)
    • Dover (Del.) International Speedway (Sept. 23, 2006)
    • Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park  (Oct. 22, 2005)
    • Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway (June 12, 2005)
  • Bowyer Camping World Truck Series Victories:
    • Kansas (Kan.) Speedway in Kansas City (June 4, 2011)
    • Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway in Avondale (Nov. 12, 2010)
    • Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (Nov. 3, 2006)

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