After a disappointing season with HScott Motorsports, Clint Bowyer has his eyes firmly set on 2017 and the prospect of stepping into the much-coveted No.14 car, previously occupied by his soon to be colleague and boss, Tony Stewart. Writing exclusively for Mobil 1 The Grid, Lee Spencer offers Bowyer’s thoughts on what awaits for him next year and, first, a visit to home track Kansas Speedway this weekend.
Ask Clint Bowyer if he’ll be elated to leave the 2016 season behind, and the driver will respond with an unequivocal “Yes”.
During his gap year in the No. 15 HScott Motorsports Chevy, there has not been a single event that would qualify for a NASCAR highlight reel from Bowyer’s perspective. Not one.
If there was ever a driver in need of a change on the Sprint Cup tour, hands down, Bowyer would qualify.
The good news? Bowyer can see the finish line. In 2017, Bowyer will take the reins of the No. 14 at Stewart-Haas Racing from former champion Tony Stewart.
And he’s beyond ready.
“Hell, yeah, it’s time,” Bowyer said. “We’re starting to talk about it. Everyone is. Whether you’re in the Chase or not, you’re already working on next year.
“Photo shoots, merchandise. I had an email come across the table – it was the first one with the 14 on it. It’s starting to become a reality. It definitely gets you pumped up and excited.”
Admittedly, 2016 has been the most humbling season of Bowyer’s career. The 37-year-old Emporia, Kansas, native is 27th in the standings. His best finish was seventh at Talladega Superspeedway in May – and that was just one of three top-10 finishes in 30 starts. He has led just three laps this year, two of which came last Sunday at Charlotte during an exchange of pit stops, before scoring his first top 20-finish in two months.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me,” Bowyer said. “When you run bad… you’ve got to be relevant. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re in. When you’re not relevant, no one wants you.”
Fortunately, Bowyer already had his next ride with Stewart-Haas Racing locked in a year ago. At that time, Stewart described his replacement as having “a great personality and a very similar background to mine, and a passion for motorsports outside of NASCAR.”
“The opportunity to get somebody like Clint Bowyer, I mean, that’s when you know you seize the opportunity,” Stewart said, before adding, tongue-in-cheek: “We’re probably going to have a hard time working together and communicating with each other. We probably won’t have any fun racing.
“It’s the right time, it’s the right opportunity, and when somebody in a scenario like Clint’s this year came about, you jump on those opportunities, and you know that timing is everything. We’re going to enjoy this, we’re going to have a lot of fun. We’ve put the right guy behind the steering wheel coming forward.”
For Bowyer, it remains a step forward not to be taken for granted. Speaking at the time, he said, “The world is all about opportunities, and certainly with [this], the unfortunate thing is you lose one of the boys, one of the guys I’ve always had a lot of fun with. I always enjoyed the fact that Tony Stewart’s character was on the race track.
“That being said, damn, I’m glad you decided to retire and open this seat up for me. It’s all about people, it’s all about culture, and I think the fit factor couldn’t be any better.”
Bowyer intends to make the most of the remaining time with his current team – starting this weekend at his home track, Kansas Speedway. Although he’s still looking for his first career win at the 1.5-mile oval, Bowyer came close in 2007 when he finished second to Greg Biffle.
“It’s always good to go home,” Bowyer said. “It’s always good to see everybody – family and friends, Grandma, everybody that’s a part of going back home.
“Love the race track. Love the area. Kansas City is so much fun for everybody. There’s so much to do there. It’s really a fun, special place for everyone to go.”
No matter how Bowyer runs on Sunday, his family and friends will still be there to support him. And no matter how Bowyer runs between now and the end of the year, the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team will still be waiting for him to kick-start the 2017 season. That alone should be enough to fuel Bowyer through the final seven weeks.
“I know I’m going to a championship calibre team for three years after this one,” Bowyer said.
“You will see me back. I feel like you get the race cars underneath of you, and you compete exactly where you have always competed.
“The history is there. Consistency has always been part of my racing and that lends itself to racing for championships and being competitive at the end of the year. We’ve got to get to where you can compete for those championships, no matter what organisation you are at. You are a big part of that, whether it’s in the race car or not.”
When the clock strikes midnight on November 21, it will mark – simultaneously – the end of a racing ‘time out’ and a new opportunity for Bowyer. With a solid team and top-of-the-line equipment at SHR, it won’t be long before the swagger returns to Bowyer’s step. The affable driver, who used to bring the party wherever he went, might even find an old familiar place to celebrate in 2017 – Victory Lane.