KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Last year, when retiring three-time champion Tony Stewart was asked about Clint Bowyer, his 2017 replacement in the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, Stewart offered an interesting description of Bowyer’s personality:
“Bowyer is like taking a thousand rubber balls and throwing them off the top of a building, then watching them bounce,” Stewart said with a laugh after playing a key role in recruiting Bowyer to the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team he and Gene Haas formed in 2009 and has since won 37 races, a Daytona 500 and two championships.
Stewart’s sharp wit and Bowyer’s frenetic personality should make for some lively moments over the next several years at SHR and in the garage. But beneath the humor, each holds the other in high esteem. Bowyer says everyone who’s followed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knows Tony Stewart the driver, but there aren’t as many who are familiar with Stewart’s role and importance as a leader at SHR.
“He’s a really good owner,” said Bowyer, who is driving for his fourth NASCAR Cup Series team since 2006. “That was the side of Tony that I didn’t know. He obviously is a lot of fun to be around as a racecar driver and as Tony Stewart – as ‘Smoke.’ But as an owner, I’ve really watched him over the offseason, in particular the Christmas party.
“I went over to the company Christmas party and I look over and Santa Claus is there, and then I got to looking a little closer and it’s Tony. Tony is Santa Claus, which, by the way, he fit perfectly into the outfit. I mean, it was like it was tailored to him, but nonetheless, it was jolly old St. Nick, Tony Stewart, who really took the time and walked all around and embraced his employees and thanked his employees and made them feel like they’re family.”
Bowyer said Stewart’s treatment of employees, including himself, will pay dividends on the racetrack. Bowyer said Stewart has mentally helped him return to the front of the field. SHR drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick likely have similar tales.
“Tony’s given me a great deal of confidence of putting me in that racecar, as has Gene Haas,” Bowyer said. “People have asked me, ‘How do you have the confidence to get back to where you need to be?’ And that’s it. That’s all the confidence you need. You have a three-time champion of this sport and a big-time owner in motorsports who had the confidence in you to put you in the thing, so that gave me all the confidence I needed to be behind the wheel.”
That confidence showed at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last week, when Bowyer qualified fourth, then finished second in his qualifying race. A midrace accident ruined Bowyer’s bid for a good finish and left him with a 32nd-place finish, but the No. 14 crew took confidence in the good Daytona performances.
Stewart’s was a frequent voice on Bowyer’s radio during the race.
This weekend, Bowyer and the No. 14 team led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz travel to the high-speed Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second race of the Cup Series season. Bowyer is still looking for his first top-five at Atlanta, but that isn’t indicative of his performance history at the 1.5-mile oval. He led 52 laps at Atlanta during the March 2008 race before finishing sixth. The most heartbreaking moment there came in September 2013, when he led 48 of the first 192 laps before engine failure.
In total, Bowyer has led 115 laps at Atlanta but only has four sixth-place finishes to show for the effort. With the new combination of SHR, Ford and a strong No. 14 team, Bowyer is a good bet to better those marks Sunday.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How familiar are you with your SHR teammates?
“I’ve worked with Kevin (Harvick) for many years. I’m looking forward to Kurt (Busch). Kurt is the one who I’ve never really known a lot about. Always raced against him, but never worked with him in any way, shape or form. Danica, I’m closer to her than probably some of the others, so I’m just looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a neat atmosphere and something that, 10 years into this thing, one of the best opportunities ever is at your doorstep and fixing to happen. It’s pretty cool.”
MIKE BUGAREWICZ, Crew chief of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How has Clint Bowyer been so far?
“This whole team is really excited. You can see a new life with us. We’re excited with the new partnership with Ford and especially having Clint on board. You can see it in his face throughout Daytona. Like he said, ‘I feel rich again.’ He’s always a crack-up and going to bring a lot of liveliness to the group just being around him. He’s going to be entertaining, to say the least, this year.”
What is your strategy for the 2017 season?
“The first thing you have to do is show you are strong and can be competitive. We are going to race for top-10s every week and that’s how we’re going to start. A win might come our way and that would be great; that’s what we want to do, we are out to win. The first thing as a team to proceed toward winning a championship is start running in the top-10, then you start being consistent and you run in the top five. Once you are in the top-five, you look for those opportunities to win, whether its segments or end of the race. That’s the methodical approach we are taking into the 2017 season.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine