By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Entering as the 13th seed in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Clint Bowyer is not the statistical favorite to score the series title come November. However, the veteran driver, who’s in a contract year with Stewart-Haas Racing, may be the most eager to get things started Sunday at Darlington Raceway.
“I’m more excited about the playoffs right now. We have an opportunity to win a championship,” Bowyer said during NASCAR Media Day Wednesday. “You see that right there? [points to a picture of the championship trophy], I don’t have one of those. I want one of those and right now that’s the only thing that matters.”
With success a tough find for Bowyer in 2020, his No. 14 team still managed to crack the playoffs this season, doing so based on points instead of victories. In fact, with only two top-five and seven top-10 finishes this year, Bowyer is on track to have his worst year in his four-year run at SHR.
And it couldn’t come at a more stressful time, as Bowyer is still unsure of his plans for the 2021 campaign.
“They’re working on that on the future and what that looks like,” he said. “If it’s a part of this sport in any way shape or form I’m excited about it. We’ll work on that.
“I’ve been so frustrated this summer. I mean, this pandemic sucks. I’m frustrated for our sport. I’m frustrated for our fans. It’s slowly starting to come back and see life. That’s awesome to see.”
With fans back in attendance this weekend at Darlington, indeed there will be more life on the property this time around. However, Bowyer is more hopeful to see more life on the racetrack, as the Kansas native has only two top 10s in the last 11 races.
And his numbers at Darlington’s 1.3-mile track aren’t much better, scoring only two top 10s in a total of 16 starts.
Despite this, Bowyer still has his eyes set on victory after leading 71 laps at Darlington back in May.
“I’m excited about these first three races within the playoffs,” he said. “I’m excited about Darlington. We ran well there in Darlington II, won a couple stages and, again, it was the same old Darlington for me. We ran well doing the things we needed to do. We pit, the caution comes out and you’re a lap down. Boom. Next thing you know you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole and put it in a hole I shouldn’t have been in and hit the wall and the rest is history.
“And, oh, by the way, now it’s for all the marbles and a championship. You’re in the playoffs for one reason — to compete for a championship and that’s Phoenix. The only way you can do that is to go through these rounds. We don’t have very many points. We’ve got to earn stage points. We’ve got to race under our capabilities.”
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) August 30, 2020
Bowyer’s capabilities may not be earning race wins and top fives, but the veteran has been consistent in 2020, entering Sunday’s Southern 500 with 13 consecutive top-20 finishes. But will top-20 finishes be enough to make it past Round 1? Bowyer is feeling the weight.
“Hell yeah, you feel pressure,” he admitted. “I’m going to postpone that pressure until I get in that damn car [Sunday]. I’m just going to wait for then. I will feel the pressure. That’s just the way it is. I can tell you this; there’s nothing that lasts longer than a bad run.”
With the toughest 10-race stretch in motor racing on his heels, Bowyer hasn’t lost confidence in his crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, who joined Bowyer for 2020.
“I really like Johnny. I think a lot of him,” he said. “His demeanor is certainly not like mine, and I think that’s a really positive thing. The thing I do like about him is when you’re whining about something, all you get is a ’10-4′ and he goes back to work. He listens and he tries to make the car better for you and nine times out of 10 he does.
“A lot of unknowns with the way that this season has been since the pandemic and not having a lot of things to fall back on. That’s going to be how we go within these playoffs is just clean up the mistakes. We’ve shown our capabilities. We’ve run up front. We’ve won stages. We’ve led laps, probably more laps this year than I had last year, maybe, but nonetheless, we’ve been up front but we’ve made mistakes. Now, we have a notebook of what not to do and we’ve got to put it to good use within these playoffs.”
With all four cars in this year’s playoffs, Stewart-Haas has the largest population of any race team in the 16-driver field. For Bowyer, that can be both an assistance and an extra layer of competition.
“It is both. There’s no question that it’s both,” he said. “I’m super proud of everybody, all the men and women at Stewart-Haas Racing. What an accomplishment. All four cars. Stewart-Haas runs as lean as I’ve ever been a part of with any organization and arguably as lean as anybody we race against. I’m proud of that. That means that you’ve got the right people put in place and they’re all pulling on the rope in the same direction.
“That’s how we got here. We cannot lose sight of that, but, make no mistake, there’s probably going to be a time within this first round where you may have to be fighting one of your own [teammates] for a position to go onto the next round.
“How can we make this as nerve-wracking as possible? I mean, we’re talking like ulcer-level nerve-wracking situations and they found it.”
It’s awesome! 💪 https://t.co/kDs3VKvBr4
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) August 31, 2020