No. 14 Haas Automation Ford driver Clint Bowyer wants nothing more than to win Saturday night’s Monster Energy Open at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway – then never be part of the race again.
The three-stage Open precedes the Monster Energy All-Star Race with each stage winner, plus a fan vote winner, earning a spot in the All-Star Race, where the sport’s stars will compete for a $1 million prize.
“I love the Open and we’re going to do our best to run well Saturday night, but I expect this time next year the No. 14 car will already be part of the All-Star Race and we won’t have to worry about racing in the Open,” Bowyer said with a laugh.
The easiest way to earn a place in the 2018 All-Star Race is to either win this year’s race, or win a points-paying Cup Series race between now and this time next year. The way he’s raced in 2017, winning isn’t a longshot for Bowyer. He’s 10th in points with two top-five finishes and five top-10s in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). He replaced three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition at the end of 2016.
Last weekend at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Bowyer avoided several close calls and rallied in the closing laps to finish ninth in front of the home state fans.
Bowyer is eyeing the $1 million All-Star prize, but before he thinks about taking home the trophy, he first has to advance beyond the Open. The trek begins Saturday at 4:35 p.m. EDT, when the Open field will be set by two rounds of traditional knock-out qualifying. The Open begins at 6 p.m. and will include three stages – 20 laps, 20 laps, 10 laps – with each stage winner advancing to the All-Star Race that begins at 8 p.m. If he doesn’t advance on the track, fans can vote Bowyer into the All-Star Race at www.NASCAR.com/fanvote.
He says advancing won’t be easy.
“There are some good drivers and teams in the Open this year,” said Bowyer, who won the 2014 and 2015 Open races. “But we will be disappointed if we don’t advance to the All-Star Race. That’s what we are here for. The No. 14 team and SHR are too good of a team and organization to race for anything less than victory.”
Saturday’s races also serve as a tune-up for the May 26 Coca-Cola 600 points race at Charlotte. Bowyer said preparation for winning the 600 begins this weekend.
“I think it’s helpful having that All-Star Race ahead of that big, long, grueling 600-mile race that’s a points race,” Bowyer said. “The All-Star Race always has those kind of stages and short runs, so it helps you kind of get ready for next weekend’s race that will have four stages for the first time. Plus, having that practice time on the racetrack is definitely going to be key to learning about the track and preparing for the 600.”
When the green flag drops Saturday night for the Open and hopefully again for Bowyer later in the evening in the All-Star Race, he isn’t going to be thinking about next year, preparation for the 600, points racing or anything else.
“Yeah, forget all that,” he said with another laugh. “There’s a million bucks on the line Saturday night. Think about that – $1 million!”