DAMNATION IN THE DESERT
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Nov. 7, 2017) – When Clint Bowyer joined Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) before the 2017 season, he told news media, fans and anyone who would listen that his new organization is the best he’s been a part of during his nearly 12 full seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
That’s a strong statement from a driver who’s scored three top-five finishes in the season standings – 2007 and 2008 with Richard Childress Racing, and 2012 with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Bowyer cites his crew, shop, owners, manufacturer and teammates when he talks about the depth of resources at SHR. The 2017 results are proving Bowyer correct. Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 in February, and Kevin Harvick earned a spot in the Nov. 19 Championship 4 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
SHR has collected 35 poles and 39 victories in 964 races.
This weekend, the four-car SHR team Bowyer hails as “the best” visits Phoenix Raceway – its best track. SHR has enjoyed five trips to victory lane in 50 races at Phoenix during the team’s nine-year existence. The Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team owned by Gene Haas and Tony Stewart also owns 15 top-fives, 22 top-10s and one pole at the Arizona flat, mile oval.
Bowyer hopes driving for the best team at its best track will pay dividends this weekend in the penultimate race of the 2017 Cup Series season.
“I like going to Phoenix,” said Bowyer who owns two top-five finishes and six top-10s and has led 22 laps at Phoenix. “It’s a great city and the racetrack there produces some of the best races we’ve seen the last couple of years. Phoenix has always been kind of unique to itself. I think it always will be. Short-track racing is always a lot of fun. I wish we had five more tracks just like Phoenix.”
Harvick owns four of those five SHR victories since joining the organization in 2014, and Ryan Newman earned the other SHR victory at the iconic desert track in April 2010. Harvick has won six of the last 10 Phoenix races.
Bowyer said he’ll rely on Harvick’s Phoenix knowledge, as well as that of his other SHR teammates Busch and Danica Patrick.
“It is a breath of fresh air to be in the meetings with those guys and debrief with them and work on the next week or even just the race after practice,” he said. “It is really cool to have those guys’ input going into a race or the following week. Stewart-Haas has won a lot of races at Phoenix. Kevin is the master there. I plan to lean on Kevin and, hopefully, we’ll get to add to the list of SHR’s successes.”
Bowyer, who is in his first season with SHR after replacing three-time champion Stewart in the No. 14 Ford led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, has posted three second-place finishes and two third-place finishes. The team narrowly missed earning one of 16 berths in NASCAR’s playoffs – despite Bowyer’s average finish of 15.6 that is 12th-best of all full-time drivers this season.
He arrives in Phoenix hoping to turn around his recent bad fortune during which accidents by other drivers ruined consecutive races at Charlotte, Talladega and Kansas, followed by a third-place finish Oct. 29 at Martinsville. Mechanical issues dropped Bowyer to a 36th-place finish at Texas last weekend.
“We are suffering a plague of bad luck right now,” he said. “I don’t know what we have to do to fix it, but I’m ready for some good luck.”
Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Fusion will carry a red-and-gray paint scheme this weekend promoting DAMNATION – USA Network’s new television series about America’s Heartland in the 1930s that premieres at 10 p.m. EST tonight.
Clint Bowyer: Driver of the No. 14 USA Network DAMNATION Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is the key to success at Phoenix?
“The key to success at Phoenix is just having a good, neutral racecar. Both ends of the track are quite different with turns one and two being a pretty tight arc and turns three and four being a pretty open, sweeping corner. So, there’s really no perfect setup. You have to find a happy medium with good balance, and then find a middle ground. After that, it’s track position that’s important. You have to qualify well and make sure you stay up front.”
What is the biggest challenge at Phoenix?
“Since the repave, the track has changed quite a bit, so your driving has to also change. I was probably better with the old, worn-out surface and softer tires. Now, with the harder tires, the new repave and new construction off turn two, plus the difference in the track – it’s been a challenge for me. But again, this is a new world, with new equipment. I’ve learned already, in just a short amount of time, things here at SHR seem to be easier.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine