When Clint Bowyer last won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, Jeremy Lin was a budding NBA star for the Knicks, a presidential election was weeks away and Brad Keselowski was well on his way to winning a Cup title.
To say the least, things are quite different in 2018.
Bowyer is now competing at Stewart-Haas Racing for the second straight season. As Tony Stewart’s replacement in the No. 14 car, he missed the playoffs in 2017, though he did earn respectable results in his first year back in top-tier equipment following the downfall of Michael Waltrip Racing and a year at HScott Motorsports.
Now, with a strong start to his sophomore year with SHR, Bowyer’s expectations should be high.
On the other side of the grid, though, things are less clear. Controversy is hitting the back portion of the Cup field in a public fashion, with BK Racing team owner Ron Devine getting in quite the predicament. My colleague, Dustin Albino, has spent the better portion of the last few months covering this extremely complicated story.
Legal stuff is no fun unless you’re getting paid the big bucks for it. But in this case, it could eventually lead to a Cup team’s doors closing. If that were to happen, the future of the No. 23 team would certainly be in doubt.
Have a question for next week’s NASCAR Mailbox? Tweet me at @JosephNASCAR or email me at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com!
Q: Do you see Clint Bowyer back at SHR next season? – Zach C.
A: I do see Bowyer back at SHR in 2019, and possibly longer than that.
Bowyer’s personality is unique, one almost similar to Stewart’s in the sense that he “gets it”. He gets that someone needs to speak up when NASCAR messes up and that there are just some things that need to be done in order to make the sport as great as it should be.
While the 38-year-old isn’t getting any younger, he is still productive on-track. That sounds crazy considering he hasn’t won since 2012, but let’s look at the numbers.
Bowyer won a career-high three races that year, his first with MWR at the team’s peak. In 2013, he came close to winning multiple races in what was an average year for him at the time. He had an 11.9 average finish thanks to 10 top fives and 19 top 10s. Of course, there was the infamous spingate controversy, one we won’t be going into because it’s irrelevant after this much time has passed.
His descent in the standings started the next year when the organization began losing a little bit more of the speed it once had. Bowyer had what he thought was an awful 2015 season, finishing 16th in the standings with only a pair of top fives. But 2016 was as bad as it could get.
He tried being like Kasey Kahne, who went to Red Bull Racing for a year prior to joining Hendrick Motorsports. It was essentially a step down to go a step up. But man oh man was it a step down for Bowyer.
The HSM team, even with some help from HMS and SHR, struggled mightily on the racetrack. Bowyer made the No. 15 car slightly better than it had run with predecessor Justin Allgaier, who drove the No. 51 entry for two years. He earned three top 10s, barely enough to keep his head held high entering his new tenure at SHR.
Then, he walked into a revamped SHR, one that began the manufacturer swap from Chevrolet to Ford, with new engines and chassis to go along with it.
Bowyer’s first year at SHR wasn’t too bad considering he had not been in stellar equipment since 2013. But then again, it wasn’t great. He entered 2017 with the expectation of winning, and that didn’t happen. Now, in his second year with the team led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, Bowyer is determined to win.
Should he not re-sign with SHR, there probably won’t be many lucrative offers on the table. If he can’t win races at SHR, could he get the job done at all?
But Stewart adores Bowyer, and so does the rest of the team. While sponsorship might not be there for the entire year, there is still money coming in thanks to the No. 14 team. In 2017, Haas Automation, run by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, sponsored the team in 19 contests, with a combination of six other companies placing their logos on the entry.
Expect Bowyer to know whether or not he will be back at SHR in the coming months. By then, he’ll know whether he has what it takes to get results. Just remember, XFINITY Series sophomore Cole Custer is getting his feet wet in the Cup Series this coming weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and he could very well replace Bowyer or veteran Kurt Busch.
Q: What’s going on with BK Racing? I’m not familiar with legal terms and a lot of dates and menacing phrases are floating around. – William S., Wisconsin
A: This is one complicated situation, so we’re going to make a timeline here to help everyone understand the events surrounding BK Racing since last year (avoiding everything from its inception in 2012 to 2016).
- Gray Gaulding signed on to run the full 2017 season with BK Racing, driving the No. 23 car. The organization also signed Corey LaJoie to pilot the No. 83 Toyota for a chunk of the year.
- Before the season began, team owner Ron Devine encumbered the company’s equipment, supplies and racecars in a UCC filing for a $15 million line of credit from Virginia Racer’s Group.
- 14 races into the year, Gaulding and BK Racing temporarily parted ways in a he-said-she-said situation. Devine said the Gaulding family owed him $560,000 in sponsorship money.
- In the meantime, Gaulding moved over to Premium Motorsports for a chunk of the remaining schedule. LaJoie became BK Racing’s primary driver, taking over the No. 23 car in the races he didn’t compete in the No. 83 entry.
- Occasionally, other drivers ran for BK Racing, including Alon Day, Stephen Leicht, Brett Moffitt and Ryan Sieg.
- When the season concluded, things got very complicated, with no official plans until the day before teams unloaded for the Daytona 500.
- “On Nov. 17, 2017, Union Bank & Trust (Devine’s bank) out of Virginia filed a lawsuit in North Carolina Superior Court (first reported by ESPN). In the lawsuit, the bank stated BK Racing owes it $9.1 million on a loan that included its two charters as collateral.” – via Dustin Albino.
- On Dec. 2, Lynch Racing Co. purchased a minority stake in BK Racing from Iowa Capital Partners.
- On Feb. 6, BK Racing was set for its hearing against Union Bank & Trust. However, that was pushed back until Thursday, Feb. 15, the same day as the Can-Am Duels.
- On Feb. 15, BK Racing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Western District Court of North Carolina.
- Union Bank & Trust can take control of the team if it wins in court against BK Racing, claiming BK owes it more than $8 million in outstanding loans.
- The team owes money to 90-plus creditors, including former drivers, engine suppliers, part suppliers and more.
- BK Racing allegedly owes $569,539.95 to Race Engines Plus LLC.
- “BK Racing can continue to compete through the three-race West Coast swing as long as it shows proof of workers compensation and commercial liability of insurance, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge ruled Tuesday (Feb. 27).” – via ESPN’s Bob Pockrass