The month of June was one of Clint Bowyer‘s worst months of racing in recent memory. Heading into the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, the No. 14 team had three finishes of 34th or worse in the past four races. That changed on Saturday night (July 13).
The race didn’t start pretty for Bowyer. After qualifying seventh, his three Stewart-Haas Racing teammates left him at the beginning of the race, taking up the first three spots until the first caution of the race. On lap 40, crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called Bowyer to pit road, only for a caution to come out six laps later for a right front flat on Chase Elliott‘s Chevrolet. The No. 14 car was trapped a lap down.
By taking the wave around, Bowyer was back on the lead lap, jumping up the scoring pylon to finish 18th in stage one. At the end of the first stage, Bugarewicz left the No. 14 on the track, where he would battle with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the lead. Despite not getting by, Bowyer was one of the first cars down pit road during the stage, ultimately taking the green and white checkered flag in fifth, earning six stage points.
Just like the end of the first stage, Bowyer stayed out at the end of the second stage when most teams elected to pit. Restarting with the lead, the No. 14 car paced the field for the next 40 laps — the most laps he’s led in a single race this season.
But during the final stage, Bowyer needed to top off for four tires and fill his fuel tank, while many others just took two tires or fuel only, meaning the No. 14 lost valuable track position.
Following a late race restart, Bowyer took the checkered flag in sixth, his best finish since Pocono in early June.
“A huge positive swing for us,” Bowyer said of his night. “It didn’t start off good. We did a good job of working together, staying in it and not giving up. We got ourselves some track position. Our Stewart-Haas [Racing] cars are fast, we show that in qualifying, but they’re not the best in race trim yet and traffic. We’ve got work to do on the mile-and-a-halves, we know that.”
On the white flag, Bowyer was sitting in fifth, but at the finish line, Denny Hamlin edged ahead. Ultimately, one position was worth giving up for the No. 14 team.
“Given the month of June we had, we had to get that monkey shook off our back,” he added. “You hate to give up fifth at the line like that, but hell, you could have just as easily wrecked over in turn 1 on the restart and had another finish like we did in June. We didn’t need that. We needed a solid finish. We got that. We’ve got the positive mojo back with our team and we’ll build on that.”
Last weekend at Daytona, Bowyer and Austin Dillon triggered the Big One. Two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway, he blew multiple tires, finishing 37th. At Sonoma Raceway — one of his best tracks on the circuit — the No. 14 team could only manage an 11th-place outing. And four weeks ago at Michigan, Bowyer was running well until he, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher were involved in a mid-race incident.
Because of the rash of bad finishes, the No. 14 team dropped to 15th on the playoff grid, only four points ahead of 17th going into Kentucky. With the sixth-place outing, Bowyer knows his bad finishes haven’t been because the team has been out to lunch, but just a lack of good luck.
“It’s not like we haven’t been competitive, we just haven’t been finishing,” Bowyer stated. “Shit has zagged instead of zigged, and if you zig you should have zagged. It’s crazy how our month of June went. Finally made some great calls on the box – some positive calls and got things turned around. It’s a good momentum boost for us.”
The series heads to another one of Bowyer’s best tracks next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Kansas native has two victories at the track, the last of which was in 2010.