After missing the opening eight rounds of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season due to a January back injury, Stewart will return to competition Sunday at Richmond International Raceway. The three-time champion received a Chase waiver from NASCAR and will finally begin his time with rookie crew chief Mike Bugarewicz in hopes of reaching the top 30 in points with a race win.
With all this in mind, Bowyer – who is coming off his first top-10 finish of the season with HScott Motorsports in Bristol – believes Stewart’s well-being should be at the top of the list.
“First and foremost you have to make sure you’re healthy,” Bowyer said Friday in Richmond. “It doesn’t do anybody any good for him to come back unhealthy and to struggle and not be ready. I’ve seen him around the track the last few weeks and it sure seems like he’s ready. Once the doctors cleared him, I think he would be good.”
Driver-to-crew-chief time in Sprint Cup competition is essential in constructing a successful team. For the past eight weeks, Bugarewicz has been paired with fill-in drivers Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon. With that experience behind him, Bowyer said he believes Stewart has a group quick enough to contend right from the start in Stewart’s return.
“I know he’s got a good team behind him,” Bowyer said. “Buga [Mike Bugarewicz] has been doing a good job, that [No.] 14 car has been fast. I think you’ll see better runs coming from Tony Stewart than you saw last year.”
As a fan, Bowyer believes it is good for the sport to have Smoke back in action.
“Man, I’m excited,” he continued. “Happy for him first and foremost and happy for our sport. We needed him to have a good run for a lot of reasons. Selfishly, as a fan, you want him to be good because he’s a lot of fun to watch and [he] brings a lot to the table.
“For a fan of the sport, it’s exciting to see him back in this sport and see what he can do for the remainder of the races.”
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