Competition-wise, we didn’t see much of Clint Bowyer last year, did we?
Normally we would call that unusual. After all, Bowyer is a winner in Monster Series NASCAR Cup racing. All of his victories came during his seven-year tenure with Richard Childress Racing.
He spent four seasons without a victory at Michael Waltrip Racing and when that team met its demise, the question was where would Bowyer end up?
As fate would have it Tony Stewart announced his retirement, effective at the conclusion of the 2016 season. Bowyer was tagged as his replacement starting in 2017.
Things looked good for Bowyer. SHR is a championship caliber team with 38 wins and two titles (Stewart 2011, Kevin Harvick 2014) through the 2016 season.
But hold on a minute. Before Bowyer could become a member of SHR he had to race somewhere else for one season.
It turned out to be HScott Motorsports, owned by Harry Scott Jr.
By no means is this intended to slight the organization but the fact is it clearly not on the level attained by more prominent teams.
Bowyer became the most notable driver to compete with Scott Jr.’s team but few folks thought Bowyer would be able to put up good numbers.
They were right.
In 2016, Bowyer didn’t win, had no top-five finishes and only three among the top 10. He finished 27th in points which meant he wasn’t anywhere close to making the playoffs. It was the least productive season of his career.
Some members of the media – always a cynical bunch – reckoned that Bowyer couldn’t wait to make the move to SHR. If that was the case, well, you couldn’t blame him.
To be honest, through the first 15 races of this season, Bowyer didn’t exactly race his way into the spotlight. He had not won, had only three top-five finishes and five among the top 10.
But SHR rocked at Sonoma, the first road-course race of the season.
Harvick won for the first time this season and locked himself into the playoffs.
Bowyer was second. It was his best finish of the season – he was third twice, at Texas and Michigan – and thus put himself into position to make the playoffs. For now, at least.
Harvick became the 11th different winner this year. Bowyer stands 11th in points and joins a handful of drivers who are qualified for the race on points. They include Kyle Busch (fourth), Chase Elliott (sixth), Jamie McMurray (eighth) and Denny Hamlin (ninth). Joey Logano is 10th in points is also qualified despite of a win at Richmond that was disallowed because of a penalty.
Bowyer’s runnerup finish moves him into the transfer spot for the playoffs win 10 races remaining in the season.
However, it did not come easily.
Bowyer started 13th and climbed as high as seventh before he recovered from a quick spin after an encounter with Brad Keselowski.
Bowyer narrowly escaped the race’s second stage.
He suffered significant left-front damage after smacking A.J. Allmendinger on the 36th lap.
“I saw (Jamie) McMurray check up and I got into him,” Bowyer said. “I’m thinking, ‘Well, we will both survive this.’
“All of a sudden Allmendinger was coming through and I smoked him and hurt the left front.”
Bowyer’s woes weren’t over. Later, he also had to overcome a pit-road speeding penalty. By his own admission, he was saved by a long run period to the checkered flag.
“Thank God I got that long run and was able to lean on some of my expertise here,” Bowyer said. “That is, if there is any. I was taking care of my stuff, babying the car, not spinning the tires and being good on the back end of a run.”
Bowyer knows his current status is tentative.
“To get second place after everything that happened is good, I guess, really good,” Bowyer said.
“But let’s face it, yeah, we’ve got to win. We need a win in a big way and today would have been a great one.”
For Bowyer’s efforts at SHR, things have decidedly taken a turn for the better. The goal now is to make them even better over the course of the regular season.
“By no means am I going to count us out of this championship,” Bowyer once said. “This championship hunt it not over until the last race at Homestead.”
He’s right about that, of course.
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