2018 has been a year of resurgence for Clint Bowyer, as he’s gone back to Victory Lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the first time since 2012. Now, the focus is on the championship for the No. 14 team.
Bowyer, 39, ended a 190-race winless streak in March at Martinsville Speedway, leading 215 laps, more laps than he had led in the previous four seasons combined. The Kansas native backed that victory up three months later at Michigan Speedway, holding off Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch for the win as rain hit the track.
With just four races remaining in the regular season, Bowyer sits fifth in the championship standings and fourth on the playoff grid with 10 playoff points. He’s the only driver outside Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. to have multiple wins in 2018.
On the heels of returning to Michigan, the site of the No. 14 team’s last victory, Bowyer spoke with Frontstretch at Watkins Glen International, where he discussed his championship pursuit, why 2018 had to be a good season and how teams can attract more sponsorship despite being successful.
Dustin Albino, Frontstretch: This season, you’ve got two victories at Michigan and Martinsville. How do you assess 2018 so far?
Bowyer: I think it’s been great. We’re in the top five in points now, and we’ve got those two wins. We’re poised for that playoff run, and we’ve got that dangerous capability. We showed that with the wins, but we’ve been in the top-five criteria when you think about it, and that’s where you need to be to put pressure on the Big Three [Harvick, Busch and Truex]; you’re going to have to be able to do that consistently. We’ve been more inconsistent doing so, but we’ve showed the capability of being able to do that.
Once you get into the playoffs and the pressure is on the line and you’re out of mulligans, sometimes you can rise to the occasion and take advantage of one of their mishaps and put yourself in the championship battle at the end. Then it all comes down to one race, one battle.
Albino: What’s different from last year with the No. 14 team?
Bowyer: Having that year under our belt and learning what we needed to learn about the new manufacture, new racecar and everything that goes about that. A lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t see. A lot of stuff at the race shop and preparation for the weekend with your database, everything we use to collect our information, our simulation, all that stuff has to come together and jive so that you can make sense out of what you’re seeing on the computer to what you’re seeing on the racetrack.
That took longer than expected. That took a year, so that was our year under our belt that took to get where we are. I think it was time well spent, obviously, now that you see us reaping the benefits with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Albino: Outside of the Big Three, are you the next best in class?
Bowyer: Definitely next in class, but somehow, someway, we’ve got to be able to join that. We’ve got to be able to join that crowd and race that elite group for a championship. If we’re going to put our bid in for a championship, we’re going to have to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. I think we’re capable of doing that; all we have to do is level out our program. We have too many peaks and valleys still; those guys are just riding in the peaks and riding in the clouds. We’ve got to be able to do that, and I think we are capable of doing that.
Albino: What are some of your goals leading into the playoffs?
Bowyer: Consistency. Another win would be big, big, big. We’re running up there, getting them stage points, and sometimes we don’t get the finish. That’s what we have to fix. Sometimes, we don’t get that finish for whatever reason; we make a mistake, have a mishap on pit road, get caught speeding, something. Those are all the little mistakes that those experienced teams together aren’t making, and that’s what makes up the difference between their performance right now and the rest of the crowd.
Albino: Is this your best shot at the championship?
Bowyer: I think it’s close. 2012 was definitely a year that I just had that confidence that we could run for a championship, but I have that back. It’s been since 2012 that I’ve had that I think it’s safe to say, without a doubt. It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally got the stars lined up and the team underneath me and the organization, manufacturer, everything that it takes to run for a championship. I finally have all that back in my corner, and I aim to make the most of it.
Albino: You said at Daytona International Speedway at the beginning of the season that this is the year you have to get it done. What did you mean by that?
Bowyer: I was out of excuses. It’s been a long time since 2012. I’m capable. I’ve ran second, third, fifth in the championship. I’m capable of performing at that level, but for whatever reason it seems like the last few years have been one letdown after another, and then you’re like, “oh, damn, man, is this ever going to get lined back up again to make a bid at that championship?” Here it is, and the time is now.
Albino: You have been successful recently, as have Truex and Jimmie Johnson, though you are not fully secured sponsorship-wise going into next season. What more can teams do to attract sponsorship?
Bowyer: It just shows you that the most successful guy in my career [Jimmie Johnson] hasn’t announced his plans for next year yet. This is a seven-time champion, matched only twice in the history of the sport. The guy is our guy, right? He’s our champion of my decade and my tenure.
It’s what it’s all about. You’ve got to be the total package. You can’t just be that winning racecar driver, you’ve got to be the total package and be attractive. My teammate Kevin Harvick has done a great job of building a program around himself and his racing. It extends beyond just that racetrack. He’s built a management company and goes into anything from UFC to golf. You couldn’t get any two more extreme differences. He’s diversified himself out enough that he’s attractive to sponsors and his program is attractive to sponsors, and that’s really what has kept him in the game, because he took the bull by the horns and the initiative to build a program of Kevin Harvick and his brand. It’s kept him not only in the game, but he’s the benchmark of a sponsorship package in a program.
I had 5-hour Energy for a long time, and that was a great relationship. Some of the opportunities that I had got cut out from underneath of me, and it was disappointing that they are not on board right now to be with me with this season that we’re having. They moved over to a good team, and it shows you that it’s not all about the performance on the racetrack. There’s more to it than that.