Clint Bowyer knows the reason why NASCAR’s road-course racing has gained in popularity in recent years. It’s the same reason the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has added another road-course race to its schedule next year and could add even more in the future.
“Road-course racing is just an emotional roller coaster that you just flat don’t know the outcome of until that rag finally falls,” said Bowyer, who grew up racing on the dirt tracks of Kansas but has become one of the sport’s better road-course aces.
“It’s just a hell of a show for the fans, the television audience and even the drivers. Man, they’re just so difficult. They’re so out of the ordinary. There are so many opportunities. That’s the thing about a road course, that there are not a lot of opportunities to pass, but there are a lot of opportunities. If somebody makes a mistake, like if you catch pit road as a caution’s coming out, there are just so many things to capitalize on one of those road courses.”
For years, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y) International have been the only two road courses on the Cup Series schedule. But in 2018, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway will run its September race on its “roval” – a new 13-turn, 2.4-mile road course incorporating part of the infield and all but 400 feet of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval on which drivers will race 500 kilometers over 130 laps.
How serious is the sport taking to road-course racing? The Charlotte race marks the first NASCAR road-course race in the track’s 58-year history and will serve as the final race in Round 1 of the 2018 playoffs – the first time the 14-year-old playoff format includes a road course.
That’s good news for Bowyer, whose road-course statistics are impressive. He finished second at Sonoma in June behind Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Kevin Harvick. It marked the 23rd road-course start of his Cup Series career. That record includes a victory, eight top-five finishes and 13 top-10s.
He’ll get his chance to improve upon those stats this weekend when the Cup Series visits Watkins Glen for the final road-course race of the season. Historically, Bowyer hasn’t enjoyed the success at Watkins Glen that he has at Sonoma. He’s earned one top-five and four top-10s on the historic Upstate New York track near the southern tip of Seneca Lake that has hosted everything from the Formula One United States Grand Prix for 20 years to a 1973 rock concert that drew more than 600,000.
Bowyer said Sonoma success doesn’t equate to similar success at Watkins Glen because the tracks aren’t very similar beyond the fact both are road courses.
“You are way more at ease at Sonoma,” he said. “It’s a finesse, rear-grip, take-care-of-your-tires, type of track. I think it is a much more technical track. When you go to Watkins Glen, it’s a ton of fun but it’s a whole different beast. It’s wide-open. It’s balls-to-the-wall. You have to be extremely good on braking and have a fast racecar. Both of them are a ton of fun and so unique. That is the thing. We race and chase each other in circles non-stop. It is refreshing to have a break like this when we come to these road courses.”
Bowyer has plenty to accomplish this weekend when his Ford Fusion carries the Five Star Urgent Care paint scheme in practice Saturday and qualifying and racing Sunday. He arrives in New York 17th in the 16-driver playoffs, just 17 points behind Matt Kenseth, who holds the final playoff position. A victory automatically earns Bowyer a spot in the playoffs that begin in just five races. If he doesn’t win, he knows every point matters as the regular season draws to a close.
With all that on the line, the Watkins Glen race should be just like Bowyer likes his racing – an emotional roller coaster.