How much do Clint Bowyer and his No. 14 Ford Mustang teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) have on the line Sunday in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Bowyer arrives at Indianapolis 15th in the playoff points just eight markers ahead of SHR teammate Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman, who are tied for 16th. A good run at Indy likely earns Bowyer a berth in the 2019 NASCAR playoffs. A bad run leaves him on the outside.
Sunday’s critical race also takes place on the 2.5-mile, high-speed Indianapolis oval, one of the world’s iconic racetracks and one of the crown-jewel races in the sport.
“It’s all lining up to be a really big weekend, between racing at a place like Indianapolis and for as high of stakes as we are racing for,” Bowyer said.
“It’s pretty clear cut what we have to do if we want to get into the playoffs. We are confident. We ran well at Indy last year and we’ll need to do it again. This is what the playoff format was designed to do. I mean, I wish we were more secure, but it’s going to be a hell of a show with a bunch of us racing hard to get in.”
Bowyer nearly won at Indianapolis last year and hopes history repeats itself this weekend. He led 37 of 160 laps and won the second stage before dropping to fifth in a three-lap shootout at the finish. Bowyer arrives at Indianapolis after a sixth-place finish Sunday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. He started 13th and ran at the front of the field throughout the race.
Bowyer will drive the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Ford Fusion co-owned by Gene Haas and the Hoosier State’s favorite son, Tony Stewart. Bowyer knows sporting the livery featuring Rush Truck Centers and Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins while driving the three-time champion Stewart’s entry at the Brickyard is an honor and a lot to live up to, magnified by the No. 14 on his racecar made famous by four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt.
“There’s just a lot of pride that goes into driving that Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, Rush and Cummins each time we race,” Bowyer said. “But carrying the No. 14 at Indy ratchets it up a whole other level. Everyone knows what that number means there. I was watching some stuff on A.J. Foyt and I was like, ‘Man, what a bad dude.’ That guy was so cool out of that racecar, and then he got in that thing and drove it just like that grizzly bear he looked like out of the car.”
Rush Truck Centers been the primary partner on the No. 14 team since Bowyer arrived at SHR in 2017 and has been with the organization since 2010. The Texas-based company has used Bowyer and the team to appeal to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 22 states. According to Rush Truck Centers, the trucking industry is expected to need 200,000 diesel technicians over the next 10 years to keep up with maintenance demands.
Cummins makes its first appearance at Indianapolis with Bowyer. The company is no stranger to victory lane with its racing lineage dating back to the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911, when company founder Clessie Cummins was on the pit crew of the race-winning Marmon Wasp of driver Ray Harroun. Since its founding in 1919, the company now employs approximately 58,600 people and serves customers in about 190 countries and territories through a network of some 500 company-owned and independent distributor locations and approximately 7,500 dealer locations. While Cummins is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions, it is best known for its diesel truck engines.
Bowyer said he’ll take any advantage he can get this weekend because Indy is a difficult track for the stock-car crowd, whose cars lack the downforce of their open-wheel counterparts in the IndyCar Series. The rectangular oval track includes two 5/8-mile straightaways and four nearly identical quarter-mile turns connected by short, eighth-mile straightaways. The turns are banked about 9 degrees – far flatter than the 30-plus-degree banking at tracks like Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and many others on the NASCAR schedule.
“Indy is just so unique,” said Bowyer, who has posted three top-five and four-top 10 finishes in 13 starts at Indianapolis. “You’re going so fast. The corners are so flat. You’ve got to have that baby flat to the floor, all the way around. It’s just a hard, hard track to get around.”
He said the key to racing success there is managing risk behind the steering wheel.
“The challenge is trying to be patient,” he continued. “You just have to be patient. You push it to the edge there. You come off of them corners and you’re like, ‘There’s no way – I’m gonna hit the wall – whoo.’ By the way, I’ve got to do that 400 more miles.”
All this at the season’s most important race at the world’s most famous track.