Clint Bowyer left Auto Club Speedway with one of his best recent finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this past weekend. Bowyer, a native from the state of Kansas, quietly left the 2.0-mile oval with a third-place finish after starting the afternoon in 17th.
Shortly after the green flag, on lap 16, Bowyer found himself poking into the top 10 running order. Auto Club is a track that is hard on the tires and forces a driver to manage them as long runs go on. This played key when it came to him gaining so many positions.
Bowyer stayed inside the top 10 through the end of the first stage to grab a sixth-place finish. This will give the driver of the No. 14 Ford four additional driver points. After pit stops, the series veteran sat third on the leaderboard when stage two went green on lap 67.
The second stage of the race went even better for the driver. After starting stage two in third, Bowyer ended the stage sitting fourth on the leaderboard to capture seven race points. At one point, Bowyer dropped to sixth and went as high as second in this stage. He’d restart fourth for the final stage of the race.
Battling several cautions towards the end of the race, Bowyer managed to stay inside the top 10 all throughout the final stage. With 60 laps remaining in the Auto Club 400, the driver found himself sitting in third. On the restart with five laps remaining, Bowyer restarted seventh.
Three laps later a caution came out involving Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Trevor Bayne over in turn two, sending the race into NASCAR Overtime. When the 200-lap event ended, after being extended to 202 laps, Bowyer took home a third-place finish.
“It was just a good weekend. I appreciate everybody’s hard work at Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Bowyer after the race. “Having these teammates and having this group behind you, the organization and the teamwork, it’s just amazing to be a part of it at this point in my career. It means a lot to me to be in this 14. I have a lot of fun with these guys. Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and all these guys mean business. It’s a confidence thing right now, a momentum-builder, and we’re getting closer. Obviously, this is a good track for me. I wanted to win that damn thing, but to come home with the wild finish and everything that it was, we’ll take it."
The finish marked Bowyer’s first top five finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since Bristol Motor Speedway in August of 2015. It also marked the first race in which the Kansas native earned points in two consecutive stages.
After a long west coast swing, as the series visited Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club, the series heads back east to Martinsville Speedway. The half-mile paperclip oval is one of Bowyer’s favorite tracks on the series calendar.
“It’s 40 minutes from the house,” Bowyer said. “You know, finally get home to see my family and everything else. To bring everybody up there, drive to the racetrack every day, sleep in your own bed, I mean, it’s just a fun, fun weekend. Fun racetrack. It’s old-school racing at its finest. I’ve been close so many times there. It’s one that I want to win more than anything. With this momentum and the confidence we take from here, maybe we can.”
The short-track in the state of Virginia has been kind to Bowyer in the past. In 2011 and 2012, Bowyer led a combined total of 247 laps, but did not take home the grandfather clock. He’s hoping to change that this weekend.
Stewart-Haas Racing owns three victories there as a team. Those victories came with Ryan Newman in April of 2012, Tony Stewart in October of 2011, and Kurt Busch in March of 2014. The racing team has also led 504 circuits there since its inception in 2009.
“I’ve run really well at Martinsville several times where I thought we were the fastest car a few times, and especially like in 2012 and 2013, and I really enjoy that racetrack,” Bowyer said. “I look forward to it every year and it’s one track I feel like I can win at and win at if the equipment is underneath me and we make good calls and I make good decisions and take care of the car on the racetrack. I feel like that’s a track we can win and bring one of those clocks home.”
Having 22 previous starts at Martinsville, Bowyer holds four top five and 12 top 10 finishes. Since 2006, the Kansas native has an average finish there of 14.8 and an average start of 17.2 and has led 356 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series laps at the Virginia track.