Clint Bowyer’s been racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 12 years and admittedly he was lost last Friday.
“I was freaking out all day,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “I literally kept looking at my phone. I looked at it in the morning and I looked at it at about lunch. I was over at the lake this week with my family at a family vacation and I looked at my phone at lunch and I’m like, ‘This doesn’t feel right.’ I looked at it again at about 3 o’clock and I’m like, ‘It’s Friday. We’re missing something.’ ”
Bowyer’s discomfort came as NASCAR experimented with a shortened race-weekend schedule at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, giving drivers and teams Friday off, then combining practice, qualifying and the race on Saturday and Sunday.
NASCAR will stage another two-day format this weekend when the Cup series visits Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Drivers will practice on the “Tricky Triangle” Saturday, then qualify at 11:30 a.m. ET and race at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Watkins Glen (N.Y) International will implement a similar schedule for its event the following weekend.
Count Bowyer as a strong supporter of the new format, citing the demands on race teams to run 38 races each season, plus several midweek test sessions throughout the year.
“It is welcomed,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, they all need to be this way. There’s no reason to string them out three, four days – sometimes a week. We have events that are a week long or even longer – two weeks long at a racetrack. In today’s day and age, I just don’t see a need for it, especially when you can do it in two days like we’re doing this weekend. But, what a neat deal. I think it’s been 12 years I’ve been doing this and I’ve never been home on a Friday. There were actually people out. People went to dinner. There were normal, living things going on while I was still at home.”
Whether it’s a two- or three-day format, Bowyer knows the next few race weekends will be key to his 2017 season. He and his No. 14 Nature’s Bakery/Feeding America Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) led by crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz are battling for one of the final berths in NASCAR’s 16-team playoffs. Only six races remain in the regular season before the playoffs begin Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
After an accident in the closing laps of Sunday’s Brickyard 400 left him with a 30th-place finish, Bowyer arrives at Pocono 17th in the 16-driver playoff standings, just 33 points behind the cutoff for the final playoff spot. A win would secure a berth, but Bowyer knows that without a regular-season win, accumulating every available point is mandatory.
He’s done a good job of earning points in 2017. The No. 14 team has scored the 11th-most points of any team. It’s a significant accomplishment for Bowyer and Bugarewicz in their first season together at SHR and first season with Ford Performance. The Roush-Yates-powered team has posted three second-place finishes and eight top-10s this season.
Pocono could be the track where Bowyer, an eight-time winner, visits victory lane for the first time in 2017. He’s earned two top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 23 starts at the 2.5-mile track. In June, Bowyer finished 17th after wall contact on lap 58 forced a trip to the pits for repairs. It appeared Bowyer had a top-10 finish in his sights before incurring damage.
“I thought we had a pretty good car on long runs at Pocono last time, but we got into the wall and that ruined our race,” he said. “We got a lap down but battled back. Our guys didn’t give up and we got an OK finish. ”
Until last week’s race, Bowyer has enjoyed a recent streak of success that includes second-place finishes at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
“We think we have to win now if we want to make the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve always thought that, but what happened at Indy makes us even more certain. Winning this weekend in Pocono would make the rest of the summer a lot more fun.”