Clint Bowyer sits on the bubble that floats between those drivers who have secured a berth through victory in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series 16-driver playoffs and those hoping to win or acquire enough points to join in the 10-race title battle.
Bowyer is 17th in the standings, trailing 16th-place Matt Kenseth by 26 points, 15th-place Jamie McMurray by 34 points and 14th-place Chase Elliott by 39 points. Assuming there will be no first-time race winners the remainder of the regular season, Bowyer needs to outscore one of those drivers or drive his No. 14 Ford to victory lane to gain entry to the playoffs.
Counting Sunday’s 400-mile race at Michigan International Raceway in Brooklyn, only four races remain in the regular season before the start of the playoffs Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Bowyer admits he can hear the sands in the hourglass running out on the regular season. He also knows most every question he’ll get from media and race fans the next few weeks will likely remind him of the playoff bid and the accompanying pressure.
So, how is he handling it all? Bowyer says he is enjoying the moment.
“This is a lot of fun,” said the Emporia, Kansas native who replaced three-time champion and Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) co-owner Tony Stewart in the No. 14 in 2017. “I love this time of year. There’s no pressure. This is racing and it’s fun.”
Many might ask how he can joke about something that’s been at the top of his bucket list since February, something that is also accompanied by sponsor and team hopes. Bowyer’s confidence comes from knowing he and his crew chief Mike Bugarewicz-led team are doing the right things to win races, as well as from his past success.
Bowyer owns three top-five and five top-10 points finishes in 11 NASCAR Cup Series seasons.
“You just have to take it in stride and go out and do your job,” said Bowyer, who also won the NASCAR Xfinity Series title in 2008. “It’s no different than the first time I climbed into the No. 14 Ford down in Daytona. We knew then that we needed a win and we still know we need a win. We’ve been close this year. Three second-place finishes but we have to push through and get that win.”
Bowyer knows the strength of the competition in the sport these days, but he’s also aware he’s showing up at the track with a chance each weekend. That will be no different in the next four races.
“I’m with the right team with Buga (Bugarewicz) and the crew, right organization with SHR and right manufacturer with Ford,” he said. “We just have to put it together. Our time is coming. It’s going to happen. But it needs to happen pretty soon.”
It could happen this weekend at Michigan, where Bowyer has scored a top-five and 11 top-10s in 23 starts at the 2-mile, D-shaped, ultra-fast oval. He’ll pilot the No. 14 Ford carrying the Nature’s Bakery paint scheme for the final time in 2017. He hopes to continue his recent streak of good performances that included a fifth-place finish at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International last weekend.
Bowyer can go a long way toward improving his playoff chances this weekend in Michigan.
Who knows? He might even burst that bubble.