After 26 races of stress, Clint Bowyer is entering the 2019 playoffs ready to let loose and get back to what makes him, well, him.
For the second year in a row, he’s ready for a much-needed mindset change, contrary to what most drivers’ thought process is heading into the final 10-race stretch.
“I’ve always thought that. Over my career making these playoffs, it comes at a good time of year for me,” Bowyer said at Playoff Media Day on Thursday in Las Vegas. “Those summer months are grueling, long, they drag on. You need a wake up call, a shot in the arm so to speak, and for me, that’s the playoffs. New purpose. You’re always racing for that win any given Sunday or that championship all year long, but now it’s real.”
Joking about his short attention span, Bowyer said the structure of breaking it into three rounds of three races each suits his aforementioned mindset.
“I like this format, three races, three races, three races, baby,” he said. “It’s not 10, screw the rest of ‘em. You’ve gotta survive the first three and if you win, by the way, you’re automatically onto the next round. For me, focus factor and everything else, that’s a healthy thing for me.”
In his last three races at Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis, he’s finished seventh, sixth and fifth, yielding 25 percent of his top 10 results this season.
To Bowyer, the No. 14 team is as hot as they’ve ever been this season.
“Momentum is confidence,” he said. “It’s confidence in your decision making and your driving and everything. Your decisions for the setup and your decision for passing and stage points that are so important. You have to have that momentum and confidence in your mind. That’s not just the driver, that’s the crew chief making those calls […] confidence is everything but you can get overconfident and overstep the bounds pretty darn quick as we all learned.”
Is there any pressure on Bowyer in a what’s a contract year as the second to last driver who made it in on points?
“Hell no, this is fun! We’re in the playoffs, you know what I mean?” Bowyer said. “Last week we were pooping our pants, man! Now it’s real. We’ve accomplished it and we have a championship to go after. It is as simple as that. Why on earth would you be nervous about this? We’ve raced for the last month-and-a-half nervous. We’re used to it. All these other guys, the pressure is back on them now. It is a new life for our race team and we’re going to go after it.”
Going after it is what his Stewart-Haas Racing team has done for the past few months, scratching and clawing for the final playoff spot. Bowyer says that fight has prepared him as well as his team for the ensuing fight in the playoffs.
“It definitely prepares you for a playoff scenario,” he said. “And look how well we performed under those pressures. Arguably it was some of our best string of races all year long. Single digit finishes. If we can continue to ride that wave, it will go to the next round. I believe that. If we can race the way we have the last few races, we’ll go to the next round and continue our quest for the championship.”
The quest won’t be easy, especially compared to last season, where Stewart-Haas Racing put all four of their drivers in the Round of 8. Given Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance in 2019, Bowyer knows the Ford’s are behind a step.
“Our decision making and everything else, the hubs around that, confidence and all that is directly dependent on your equipment,” he admitted. “Last year, let’s face it, the Fords were the heat. They ended up winning the championship, all four of us won races at Stewart-Haas Racing. Life was good. It has been a struggle this year. My strong suit is trying to make sure that everybody is enjoying themselves in those tough times and trying to find some light in the dark tunnel to where you can get to the end of that thing.”
As for Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bowyer is tired of the talk. He just wants to race (and get out of Sin City at all costs).
“I’m ready to win,” Bowyer said. “They pay us to win races. I wanna win Las Vegas and get the hell outta here before we die.”