You wouldn’t think a driver that grew up on the dirt tracks of Kansas would be one of the best road course racers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but over the years, Clint Bowyer has found success making left and right turns, especially at Sonoma Raceway, site of this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
In a season where he has had some hiccups with his new ride at Stewart-Haas Racing, a trip out west to California wine country could be just what the doctor ordered for the No. 14 team, which was victorious in this race one year ago with owner Tony Stewart at the wheel and looks to make it back to back wins to give Bowyer his first win of the season.
Bowyer may have struggled at the 12 turn, 1.990 mile road course in his rookie season, but things have only gotten better from there as he has totaled one win (2012), six top-five finishes, eight top-10 finishes, 82 laps led, and an average finish of 11.5 in 11 starts, which is the best out of all active drivers.
After the first 15 races of the season with his new team, Bowyer has come close to winning with two top-five finishes and five top-10 finishes, but also has been on a downslide since mid-April as he has been unable to score a finish better than 14th in six of the last seven races, making Sunday’s race an important one to get things turned around as the calendar ticks toward the playoffs.
“I have no idea how this became one of my best tracks,” said Bowyer. “It sucks that my stats got knocked down by catching on fire five laps into the race last year. I am just looking forward to it. It has been three weeks in a row of letdowns. We have had fast cars. Bugga has brought solid, solid race cars and haven’t been able to get the finishes the last three weeks. We need a turnaround and I can’t think of a better track for me personally to do that. For us at Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony (Stewart) won here last year in the 14 car. Hopefully lightning strikes again. The kid (Kyle Larson) won in the Lightning McQueen scheme last week and it would be cool to take Lightning McQueen to victory lane again this week.”
Bowyer noted that his win at the track back in 2012 was completely unexpected, but that his positive attitude when it comes to this race has paid dividends throughout his career.
“The win was a shocker,” Bowyer added. “I always have fun here. Attitude is everything and you don’t want to believe that until you see it but this has always been a fun weekend for me. The area, the event of this race track is awesome. The fan base. Everything about this place. How you can’t hardly get into it yourself as a competitor on Sunday morning. It just tells you about the event as a whole and the job they do promoting this and job we do putting on a show on this race track.”
As one of the only two road courses on the circuit, Sonoma and Watkins Glen provide some needed variety to the schedule, but Bowyer was quick to explain the two tracks are completely different animals and how Sonoma is more like a short track than many would expect.
“When you go to Watkins Glen it is a ton of fun but it is a whole different beast. It is wide-open. You are way more at ease here. This is a short track with finesse, rear grip, take care of your tires, type of track. But again, beating and banging and getting the most of of getting under someone and out-braking them. I think this is a much more technical track than Watkins Glen. I don’t want to knock the Glen. When you go there, it is balls to the wall. You have to be extremely good on braking and have a fast race car. Here, I feel you can carry things a little more at a track like this. Both of them are a ton of fun and so unique. That is the thing. We race and chase each other in circles non-stop. It is refreshing to have a break like this when we come out here and go to Watkins Glen.”
Needless to say, if past races on the California road course are any indication, Bowyer and his No. 14 team will be in the mix for the win on Sunday before everything is said and done. Maybe this is the week that they are finally able to strike gold and finish the day celebrating in victory lane.