By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 seemed to a return to form for Clint Bowyer. Bowyer ran up front for much of the 500-mile race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He finished third, a part of a Ford Performance sweep of the top three finishing positions in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
In the final 25-lap run to the finish, Bowyer restarted inside the top-five. His No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion held station on the old, worn-out track surface. Bowyer defended against charges from Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano to finish third. Meanwhile, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick dominated the day, scoring the victory.
The scramble was made even more chaotic as rain threatened to shorten the race. The possibility of weather led some teams to take a different strategy. Bowyer’s crew chief, Mike Bugarewicz, elected to remain on the same strategy as the leaders. The difference in tires was obvious as Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Bowyer drove by those on the alternate strategy like they were standing still. A blown engine by Trevor Bayne with under 30 laps to go brought everyone back onto the same strategy.
At one point, all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars were inside the top-seven. The rain-delayed race was relatively quiet for Bowyer. He started inside the top-10 and never fell back. Bowyer’s Stage finishes show this as he finished second and ninth in the first two stages.
“It’s a fun race track,” Bowyer said. “There aren’t many places left that can put on a show like that and be able to race all over the place, so I just appreciate this place. I appreciate Harvick’s speed. He was so fast. Man, I’m telling you our Haas Automation Ford was good all weekend long. All of our Stewart-Haas cars were fast. That’s a credit to everybody’s hard work over the offseason and it paid dividends here tonight. It’s raining now. How about that? Mother Nature allowed this to happen, so I’m proud of everybody and all our partners – Mobil 1 to Wix to One Cure and everybody involved. It’s a lot of fun to be able to run like that so early in the season.”
In recent seasons, Bowyer has struggled, both before and after joining SHR. This was the earliest he’s scored a top-five since the 2010 season. Bowyer is still looking for his first victory since the 2012 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The third-place finish was Bowyer’s first top-five of the season and the 65th of his career. It also moves him up from 13th in the Championship Points standings to fifth, 15-points behind Points Leader Logano.
Now Bowyer and company will look to continue their momentum to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube on March 4.