By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Everything seemed to be going Clint Bowyer’s way in Stage 1 during Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, leading 21 of the first 38 laps, but multiple pit road penalties halted his aspirations of scoring his third win of the season.
While the recovery was slow, he went from two laps down to back on the lead lap by staying out longer than the leaders, and clawed his way back to a fifth-place finish for his sixth top-five this season.
“Yeah, we were too fast,” Bowyer on his penalty. “The guys work very hard on making sure that they are pushing the envelope, which you have to do in this world and against this competition. You have to push everything. Certainly pit road is a big part of that. You are splitting hairs out there on the race track down to the tenths of a second and you can gain seconds on pit road.”
Bowyer, who started in fifth, showed quick pace from the rest of the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, and battled Ryan Blaney for the race lead, putting his No. 14 WIX Filters Ford Fusion out in front on Lap 17. Blaney snatched it away a lap later, but the lap after, it was Bowyer who set pace from the rest of the field.
Then on Lap 38, Bowyer made his first green flag stop, but that’s when his day drastically changed. He was speeding, marking his first pit road penalty of the season, and had to serve a pass-thru.
Although he served his penalty, his day became worse when he was caught speeding once again for being too fast exiting pit road. His punishment was now a stop-and-go, where he was handcuffed with a third pit penalty shortly thereafter because he was unsuccessful serving his stop-and-go.
Bowyer admitted he came onto pit road too fast, and owed up to his mistake due to lack of listening.
“Obviously our pit road speed was just a little too fast,” said Bowyer. “We practiced it yesterday and the guys even made some adjustments but that tight section down there was just too fast. The first time you second guess yourself. You come down the second time and you are cautious and speed again so now you know you’ve got a problem. Then it was just confusion on my part. I wasn’t listening and made a mistake and cost us a third time down.”
With three penalties in under 10 minutes, Bowyer was trapped two laps down in 35th. From there, it was catch up time if cautions were to go his way. Deep into Stage 2, Bowyer’s day turned around when a Lap 129 caution for debris in Turn 2 put him back on the lead lap.
Once he was in sync with the leaders, he blistered his way past several cars, and while teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch had an epic battle for the stage win with the advantage going to Harvick, Bowyer crossed the line in eighth.
However, Bowyer would never regain the lead as he battled a car lacking speed at the center of the turns during the final stage, and only cracked the fifth position where he stayed in the closing laps.
After the race, Bowyer said he’s proud of his entire team for not only providing him a fast car, but his crew gradually improving as the regular season winds down.
“We got good at pitting today, unfortunately. The capabilities there to run with these three guys. Our race team is young and making some mistakes but we have time to gain on those and build on those. You hate to give away those stage points. I think we could have won both those stages and maybe been in contention for a win,” said Bowyer. “I am proud of everybody. WIX Filters was on the car this weekend and everybody at Ford and the IT Savvy folks are here. We have a lot of good mojo on this 14 car, we just have to put it all together to get another win.”
Bowyer added that having an attitude and a competitive car shows that even the worse days can turn around for the better.
“Well, add a fast car and a bit of a pissed off attitude and it is amazing what you can do,” said Bowyer.
Bowyer’s finish also marked his third consecutive top-five finish, and currently sits sixth in points with nine races left in the regular season.
To make it four-in-a-row in the top-five category, Boywer will have to survive the immense carnage known as the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway July 7, where he finished runner-up to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. for his best Daytona finish last season.
Since making his Daytona debut in 2006, four out of Boywer’s 70 career top-five finishes came at the “World Center of Racing.”