Clint Bowyer hasn’t always enjoyed the best relationship with Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races Sunday afternoon in the Bank of America 500.
At one time in his career, it might have been one of his least favorite tracks on the circuit. But that changed Oct. 13, 2012.
That night, Bowyer stretched his fuel mileage to earn his eighth career victory and third of that season. It also gave him a new regard for the 1.5-mile oval.
“I don’t know why, since that victory, it gave us a boost of confidence and we’ve seemed to run a lot better at Charlotte,” said Bowyer, whose 14.2 average finish is the ninth best of all full-time drivers in 2017. “This was a terrible track for me – I hated this place. I’m pretty fond of it, anymore. After the last two weeks, I think my Ford should be pretty fast this weekend.”
The Emporia, Kansas native would love a repeat of the 2012 race Sunday when he drives the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). The race will mark Bowyer’s 427th career Cup Series start and his 24th Cup Series start at Charlotte, where he has two top-five finishes and five top-10s in addition to the victory.
Bowyer arrives in Charlotte after finishing sixth Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and seventh the previous weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. It will also mark his second start at Charlotte in an SHR Ford. At the Coke 600 in May, Bowyer started ninth and finished 14th despite several slower cars stretching fuel mileage in the closing laps and finishing ahead of him.
“We just couldn’t get our Ford to turn in May,” said Bowyer, who finished ninth in the non-points All-Star Race held at Charlotte in May. “We tried everything we knew to help the front end but we never got it to where we could race with the leaders.”
Balancing the car’s handling will likely be an area of work for the No. 14 and all the Cup Series teams when they begin practice Friday afternoon. This weekend’s race returns to the three-day format that includes a Sunday-afternoon race for the first time at Charlotte since 2002.
“I think racing in the heat of the day will make for an interesting race,” he said. “It will probably be hot and slick, and whoever wins is going to have to be perfect.”
Next year’s fall race in Charlotte will be even more challenging. The track 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.
The Charlotte race marks the first NASCAR road-course race in the track’s 58-year history, and it will be the first time the 14-year-old playoff format includes a road course. It will serve as the final race in Round 1 of the 2018 playoffs.
“I think the folks at Charlotte are doing all they can to make this event special,” Bowyer said. “I hope Sunday afternoon means we’ll see a lot of families at the track and we’ll put on a good show. Next year is going to be something on the new track. It’s a pretty cool time and I like the changes.”
With the day race and next year’s change to the “roval,” Charlotte’s future is bright, but maybe for just this weekend Clint Bowyer hopes he can rekindle the past with some 2012 magic.