Clint Bowyer‘s 2019 season has been a tale of two tapes — either really good or awful, much of which has been out of his control. Regardless, the veteran driver isn’t worried about making the playoffs.
Bowyer, 40, started the season for Stewart-Haas Racing inconsistently. The No. 14 team had just one top-10 finish through the opening five races of the year (fifth at Atlanta Motor Speedway), but then hit one of those flashy hot streaks Bowyer’s been accustomed to throughout his career.
Between Martinsville Speedway, the site of Bowyer’s breakthrough win in 2018 (ending a 190-race winless streak) and Richmond Raceway, he had a worst finish of seventh. But that included three short tracks, on which the Kansas native has honed his skills on over his 15-year career. Since mid-April, he has just four top 10s: ninth at Dover International Speedway, a pair of fifth-place efforts at Kansas Speedway and Pocono Raceway, and most recently a sixth last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
In a four-race stretch after Pocono, Bowyer had a best finish of 11th, including three finishes of 34th or worse. Despite the inconsistency, Bowyer is confident in his race team, though noting the organization is off a bit from last year.
“Last year was an A season for us, collectively,” Bowyer said of Stewart-Haas Racing. “We haven’t been in victory lane, and last year at this time we were there seven times. We’re not where we need to be or want to be, but it’s not from a lack of effort.
“We’ve got to dig deep. That being said, the Mustang has been in victory lane. It just hasn’t been with Stewart-Haas Racing, or me, personally. How you go from here is you keep your head down, work hard and learn as much as you can and make good decisions. Our bad luck will turn around. We were racing for a win at Daytona and got wiped out. You’ve got to keep doing that. You keep knocking on the door, the damn thing will open.”
With a sixth-place finish last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Bowyer is tied with Jimmie Johnson for 14th in the championship standings, 10 markers ahead of 17th. But he’s not the only SHR team competing around the bubble, as Aric Almirola is 10th in points and Daniel Suarez, whose luck has been similar to Bowyer’s recently, is 17th.
Since Richmond, when the No. 14 team was hitting its stride, Bowyer has dropped six positions in the standings. Even with a string of terrible luck, Bowyer remains confident it will turn itself around.
“Everyone is in this together,” he added. “I’ve made mistakes, we’ve made mistakes together — not making the right calls to get stage points or something like that. It takes a team effort and that’s everybody, driver included. We’ve all got to do better here and buckle down.
“At the end of the day, you don’t let your confidence waver or your work ethic waver. You keep working hard and keep your head down and the results will turn around.”
Racing near the playoff bubble isn’t rare for Bowyer. In 2007, then racing for Richard Childress Racing, the driver squeaked his way into the playoffs before finishing third in the championship. In 2009, he missed out on the postseason, though he ran near the cutoff line most of the year. In 2011, he was one of the first drivers to miss the playoffs before finishing the year 13th in points. Hell, just two years ago the same No. 14 team finished the regular season 11th in points but 17th on the playoff grid, meaning he wouldn’t have a shot at the championship.
With the experience of racing near the cutline, Bowyer’s mentality doesn’t change during the final seven races of the regular season.
“It doesn’t for me,” Bowyer said. “Why would you be worried about making the playoffs if you can’t compete within them? That’s what you worry about. I’m worried about getting our cars running well so that when we make the playoffs we can compete for a championship.
“I’m not worried about making the playoffs. Hell, if you ain’t good enough to compete for a championship, what good does it do to make the playoffs? You’ve got to have your stuff right. You’ve got to hit it in full stride. If we do that, we’ll make the playoffs and we’ll compete for a championship.”
Should Bowyer make the postseason, the No. 14 team could be a real dark horse to make it to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Last year, he made it to the Round of 8 before being eliminated with a pair of SHR teammates. Ultimately, the playoff tracks suit Bowyer well, as five of his 10 career victories come at tracks that make up the postseason.