The racing world already knows the top two headlines coming out of Sunday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The sport will crown a champion among four drivers as well as say good bye to its most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While he certainly has thoughts on those top stories, Clint Bowyer would like to leave South Florida as the third headline of the evening by taking home the race winner’s trophy from the 1.5-mile high-banked track.
“Whenever you race, you want to win, whether it’s the season-ending Cup race or racing your brothers on dirt bikes in the backyard,” said Bowyer, who’ll drive the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford in the 36th and final points race of the 2017 season. “Homestead is no different. There’s going to be a lot on the line with those guys racing for a championship, but the rest of us are going to race for a trophy, as well.”
The champion’s celebration and Earnhardt’s retirement might overshadow the race winner, but they wouldn’t diminish the accomplishment, according to Bowyer.
“It’s tough to win these races, so anyone who takes the checkered flag Sunday is going to be more than happy,” he said. “But, think of the momentum it builds. You spend the entire offseason knowing you are the most current winner. You’ll still be happy when you get to Daytona in February.”
Bowyer has a rooting interest Sunday night as his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Kevin Harvick attempts to bring the nine-year-old team its third title and first for new team manufacturer Ford since 2012. Bowyer, who was also a teammate to Harvick at Richard Childress Racing from 2006 to 2011, said he has no doubt Harvick and the No. 4 team can win the championship again for SHR.
“Those guys are good,” said Bowyer, who tested at Homestead for SHR in late October. “You saw what Kevin did at Texas in the closing laps, and he was up there at Phoenix. I expect that same Kevin Harvick on Sunday night. He has a good team, crew and organization behind him.”
As for Earnhardt’s retirement, Bowyer is a bit more reserved.
“Most of my good stories that I enjoy and that I’ll always remember about Dale Jr. are – hell no, I can’t say it,” Bowyer said with a laugh before pausing and offering a tribute.
“You know, the neat thing about our sport is the media, our broadcast partners – everybody does such a good job of covering the sport and really lets fans see what people are like,” he said. “You can’t hide your personality or the true you because you’re just seen so much in our sport, so Dale is just a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy. He’s always been a great spokesperson for the sport. He’s always been a huge fan of the sport. And it’s going to be a huge void. But the stories and things that I’ll remember, they’re off the track and stuff we had a good time doing.”
Bowyer, who is in his first season with SHR after replacing three-time-champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Ford led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, has posted three second-place finishes and two third-place finishes. The team narrowly missed earning one of 16 berths in NASCAR’s playoffs despite Bowyer’s average finish of 15.6 that is 12th-best of all full-time drivers this season.
He arrives in Homestead hoping to turn around his recent string of bad fortune during which accidents by other drivers ruined consecutive races at Charlotte, Talladega and Kansas, followed by a third-place finish Oct. 29 at Martinsville. Mechanical issues dropped Bowyer to a 36th-place finish at Texas and, at Phoenix last weekend, he finished 13th, overcoming a speeding penalty and late damage on a restart.
All of Bowyer’s recent bad luck would wash away Sunday night with a victory, which he’ll gladly celebrate – even if he has to play third fiddle to a new champion and his buddy Earnhardt.