It’s going to be difficult for Clint Bowyer and his three Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammates to top last Sunday’s performance at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Bowyer won his second Monster Energy Cup Series race of 2018 and, for the first time in its history, SHR swept the top three finishing spots – the first 1-2-3 sweep in the Cup Series since Roush-Fenway Racing did it at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sept. 21, 2008.
The June 24 Save Mart 350k at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway is next on the schedule after the Cup Series takes this weekend off to celebrate Father’s Day. Bowyer said it isn’t out of the question for his No. 14 One Cure Ford Fusion and his SHR teammates to put on a repeat performance similar to Michigan at the first of the Cup Series’ two road-course races in 2018.
“I don’t want to jinx myself, but Sonoma is my favorite racetrack,” said Bowyer, who has scored six top-five finishes in the last 10 races in California Wine Country. That’s two more top-five finishes than the next-closest driver Kurt Busch, his SHR teammate, who owns four.
“I love that weekend,” Bowyer continued. “It’s a vacation for everybody involved. It’s a challenging racetrack. I’m good at it. You always look forward to going to tracks you’re good at. We’ve gotten this wave of confidence going at the moment. Hopefully, we can ride off to Sonoma and enjoy some success there, as well.”
Bowyer said he was aware how well he and his teammates were racing at Michigan and throughout the season. All four SHR Fords were in the top-five on the opening lap at Michigan. SHR’s four Fords have led 1,530 of 4,595 laps – 33.2 percent – in 2018 on their way to winning seven Cup Series points races plus the NASCAR All-Star Race. Each driver would be in the NASCAR playoffs were they to start now.
“That’s the coolest thing about it,” Bowyer said. “You’re up there looking in the mirror, even when I was running second, I said to myself, ‘Gosh, this is a moment.’ We’re running 1-2-3 at a track that is an aero track, that’s a horsepower track, it’s a demanding racetrack on your equipment.
“Then, to be able to get there and give each other hugs, be happy, truly, genuinely happy for one another, that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to push you to another level – working together, the communication, pushing each other each week. It’s not just the drivers. It’s our teams, our crew chiefs, our pit crews, everybody who raises the bar for everybody involved. It’s cool to see.”
But now, SHR’s focus is on Sonoma, where Bowyer finished just .754 seconds behind SHR’s Kevin Harvick in 2017, making it a 1-2 sweep for the team. Busch, the 2011 race winner at Sonoma, and SHR newcomer Aric Almirola are likely to join the Harvick-Bowyer party at the front of the field on the 10-turn, 1.99-mile track.
Bowyer, the former body shop repairman who grew up amid the wheat fields of Kansas, nowhere near a road course, claims not to know why he runs well at Sonoma. But he can easily tick off what a driver must do to be competitive at Sonoma.
“You have to get yourself right,” he said. “That’s the most important thing to get right. Mental attitude is everything. You have to manage that racetrack, that racecar, and manage traffic, make no mistakes, hit your marks, go easy on your throttle and brake pedals. You really have to take care of those four Goodyear tires because those are what are going to take you to victory lane if you take care of them.”
Bowyer’s best moment at Sonoma came in June 2012, when he held off Busch and Tony Stewart, who with Gene Haas co-owns Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford. Bowyer dominated the race by leading 70 of the 112 laps. Defending race-winner Busch was all over the bumper of Bowyer’s car late and got a final shot in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish. Bowyer raced side-by-side with Busch at the green flag, then cleared Busch and pulled away for the win. Bowyer had to walk to victory lane to celebrate with his crew after his car ran out of gas during the cool-down lap. Stewart passed Busch on the final lap to claim second.
Bowyer’s No. 14 team knows a little bit about Sonoma, as well. In addition to last year’s runner-up finish with Bowyer in 2017, the crew chief Mike Bugarewicz-led unit won the race with Stewart in 2016 in what turned out to be the last of Stewart’s 49 Cup Series wins.
Obviously, Bowyer and the No. 14 team arrive at Sonoma with momentum. Bowyer’s aggressive driving at Michigan and a two-tire stop just laps before rain halted the race after 133 of a scheduled 200 laps gave the team its second victory of the season. The win moved Bowyer to fifth in the season standings and allowed him to join Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. as the only multiple race winners this season.
The Cup Series will enjoy an off weekend this weekend before traveling to California. Not only is an off weekend precious during a 38-race schedule, but it coincides with Father’s Day on Sunday. Bowyer plans to spend it with his father Chris “Pops” Bowyer.
“Father’s Day and the off weekend at the same time – yes!” he said. “You know, Father’s Day will always be about my father. Every time I think of Father’s Day, I think of him. It’s his day. He was always my hero growing up. You can bet I’ll be spending this weekend with him in one way, shape, or form.”
Pops Bowyer will enjoy his children and grandchildren Sunday, but last week’s Michigan victory from his son Clint might be his favorite Father’s Day present this year.
Unless, of course, there’s a repeat in Sonoma.