With only two races remaining in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season and locked in a battle for one of the final few playoff berths, Clint Bowyer is calling on help from NASCAR legend Mark Martin at Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will sport a Carolina Ford Dealers paint scheme nearly identical to the scheme Martin drove in 43 NASCAR Xfinity Series races between 1988 and 1991 for Bill Davis Racing. The Batesville, Arkansas native earned three Xfinity Series victories and scored 11 top-five finishes in the predominantly blue, white and red Carolina Ford Dealers Thunderbird.
“We’ll take advantage of anything we can right now and you can’t do much better than having Mark Martin on your side,” said Bowyer, who trails Jamie McMurray by 58 points for the 16th and final playoff berth. He needs to make up that deficit or win during the next two races to be part of NASCAR’s postseason that begins Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Bowyer knows the importance of Sunday’s race to his playoff hopes and those of his crew chief Mike Bugarewicz-led team, but he’s aware the Darlington race marks “The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR” when the industry honors the sport’s history. Last year, 36 Cup Series teams competed with throwback paint schemes in the Southern 500, the most in any single NASCAR event in the sport’s history.
“I think it’s important to remember our legends,” Bowyer said. “This weekend will be all about Mark and the heroes of this sport. When you think about my heroes and the people I really looked up to in this sport, Mark was at the top of the list. He was my teammate in 2012 and it meant so much to me to race alongside him back in the MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) days.”
Martin won 40 times in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, scored 271 top-five finishes and 453 top-10s. He also won 56 poles. His last Cup Series race was at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17, 2013 in SHR’s No. 14 as he subbed for an injured Tony Stewart.
Martin said the Carolina Ford Dealers paint scheme has a special place in his heart and in his career.
“The throwback program at Darlington is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of and seeing this car is really a time check, a time stamp for me,” said the 58-year-old Martin, who entered the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year. “The Carolina Ford Dealers was the first sponsor I had that did full-fledged television marketing. They did lots of radio spots and lots of television spots. It was really my first sponsor that I did that kind of work with.”
Bowyer, an eight-time NASCAR Cup Series winner, is in his first year driving SHR’s No. 14 Ford Fusion after replacing three-time champion Stewart, who retired as a NASCAR driver at the end of the 2016 season. The No. 14 has scored the 10th-most points of any car in 2017 with five top-fives and 10 top-10s.
Bowyer finished 19th Aug. 19 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, so he needs a good finish at Darlington, followed by similar results at the regular-season finale Sept. 9 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, to enter the playoffs.
He owns only one top-10 finish in 11 races at Darlington. Maybe the presence of Martin will change that this weekend.
“Darlington has always been a big race for our sport, but this playoff race only adds to the intensity,” Martin said. “I’d love for Clint to have a good run or, better yet, win the race. It’s been a while since a Carolina Ford Dealers paint scheme visited victory lane, so doing it again in Darlington would be special. It would mean a lot to me and make a lot of people happy, especially Clint.”