By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was definitely the first trying race for Stewart-Haas Racing since their offseason transition from Chevrolet to Ford.
Kevin Harvick, who came into the race as the point leader, had his day come to a crashing halt on lap 69 when his right front tire exploded just after he crossed the start finish line in the sixth position. Harvick, who had never recorded a DNF at Las Vegas before Sunday, would be credited with a 38th-place finish.
Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch had a decent day going, but all day long his battery was a worrisome issue. The voltage kept getting lower and lower and finally around lap 200, the team opted to change batteries. This put Busch several laps behind the pace of the leaders and he soldiered on to finish 30th.
Danica Patrick’s car had been going sour all race long. Every time the No. 10 Ford Fusion past by spectators it sounded like a machine that had a sick power plant. Past halfway, her car finally began showing puffs of smoke, and ultimately on lap 247 her engine expired. Patrick would wind up 36th on the leader board at the end of the day.
Luckily for Stewart-Haas Racing, they still had one last bullet in the chamber with Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, who was making his 400th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
Bowyer started from the 13th position and held his ground during the first green flag run of the race. However after the first pit stop of the race, Bowyer began to really suffer from a lack of grip. The No. 14 team would struggle nearly the remainder of the afternoon.
In the final Stage of the race though, Bowyer’s horrid luck to start the 2017 campaign finally subsided. The handling started coming to his race car, and he began to cut his way up the scoring sheet. In the closing laps Bowyer found the top-10. From there he was able to keep things held together for a solid 10th-place finish.
The finish was nice, but Bowyer didn’t sugar coat how his day transpired.
“It was a struggle. To be truthful, we weren’t the best all weekend, but we just kept digging,” explained Bowyer. “Bugga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) didn’t give up on the box and kept adjusting on it and got me pretty good, the best we’d been right there at the end. It’s a top-10 and gives us some momentum. It’s our third race together and we got a top-10, so we’ve got to keep digging.”
The top-10 finish moves Bowyer to 12th in the championship standings. Bowyer has been a championship after thought for the past three seasons, but if he can keep building momentum with his new team perhaps he can get back on the radar as far as the championship hunt goes.