Let us re-introduce you to Clint Bowyer.
You might remember him. He finished second in the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and third in the 2007 title chase. He has eight NASCAR Cup Series victories and won the 2008 NASCAR Xfinity Series title after leaving his hometown of Emporia, Kansas for racing glory in 2004.
He’s NASCAR’s everyman, whose collar is as blue as his Kansas City Royals hat and his smile as wide as a wheat field.
He’s been quiet the last two seasons, but that only proves how much of a team sport NASCAR is these days. Midway through 2015, his two-car Michael Waltrip Racing team announced it was going out of business at the end of the season. In 2016, Bowyer, needing a temporary home before joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2017, drove for an HScott Motorsports team that was still early in its development.
Out of sight usually means out of mind in NASCAR, but Bowyer will be front and center in 2017. He’ll climb into a car worthy of his skill as he replaces the retired and future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in SHR’s No. 14 Ford Fusion under the leadership of second-year crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz. After engineering a playoff appearance with Stewart in 2016, expectations of pairing Bowyer with “Buga” – the only rookie crew chief in the 2016 playoffs – are sky high in 2017.
Bowyer will make his SHR debut Feb. 26 driving the No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion in NASCAR’s most prestigious event – the 59th running of the Daytona 500.
“This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had,” Bowyer said. “Everybody knows that. Getting in the No. 14 Ford isn’t easy. It’s going to be a challenge. The first thing you think about is Tony’s fan base. There are a whole lot of people I don’t want to let down. I want to make all those people proud of the No. 14 this year, proud of me being in that No. 14, and proud of Tony’s decision to put me in it this year. The pressure is probably there but, to be honest with you, from where I’ve come to looking forward to this opportunity for more than a year, there’s more excitement than pressure.”
Bowyer won’t be the only new addition to SHR in 2017. Since its inception in 2009, SHR has posted 36 victories and two championships with Stewart and Kevin Harvick, so it came as a bit of a shock to the motorsports world when it was announced in February 2016 that SHR would welcome Ford Performance as the four-car team’s manufacturer beginning in 2017. The move should provide a boost under the hood and in aerodynamics, as well as in the SHR engineering meetings with the global motorsports company bringing its expertise to its Kannapolis, North Carolina, operation. As the sport grows, the long-term alliance of SHR and Ford Performance could lead to the next wave of dominance that Bowyer expects to surf for the next several years.
If the SHR-Ford-Bowyer combination bears the fruit many expect, then Bowyer’s return to prominence will be a boon to NASCAR. The former dirt racer can boast success on every type of track the series visits. Four of his eight career NASCAR Cup Series victories have come on short tracks, two on restrictor-plate tracks, one on an ultra-fast 1.5-mile track and one on a road course. He’s won everywhere and he’s won in everything. Three times he’s finished in the top-five in the standings and earned eight victories in the Xfinity Series and three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Chasing checkered flags is what has driven Bowyer since racing dirt bikes in Kansas. He proved proficient at collecting trophies as he transitioned from two wheels to four, from dirt to asphalt, from Xfinity to Cup. Another trophy and another checkered flag is what drives Bowyer, and from the cockpit of his No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion, he’s in the best position to secure those highly-sought items.