In a car that looked more like it had been through a demolition derby than a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, Clint Bowyer showed just how strong his No. 14 team was after bouncing back to score a runner-up finish at Sonoma, which is his best finish on the season since finishing second at Bristol back in April.
Entering the day, Bowyer’s confidence was high that he could make it back to back wins for Stewart-Haas Racing at Sonoma and score his first win of the season, given his team’s recent history at the track and his own stats on the 1.990-mile road course. Through his first 11 starts at the track, Bowyer had one win (2012), six top-five finishes and eight top-10 finishes.
Though he only managed a 13th place start for Sunday, Bowyer charged into the top-10 by the end of the first stage, finding himself 10th at lap 25.
The second stage didn’t go quite as well for Bowyer as AJ Allmendinger spun in front of him and several others in Turn 11 on lap 34, causing Bowyer’s left front to make contact with Allmendinger as he tried to squeeze between Allmendinger’s car and the tire barriers on the inside of the turn.
“You get there back in traffic and you’re so much faster than them you have to check up to save a mistake,” Bowyer said. “You run over them and you don’t mean to; you get frustrated and get a little bit farther behind and a little bit farther behind. I saw the 42 check up and I get into him and I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll both survive this’. And then all of a sudden the 47 was coming through him and I smoked him and hurt the left front. We were fast all weekend. With clean air and a long run, that’s always my strong suit. We got the long run, we just hard to start dead last to get it.”
After getting the damage repaired, Bowyer would find himself all the way back in 32nd to start the final stage of the race, with his work cut out for him to be able to make his way back to the front, but the No. 14 team never gave up.
Running some of the fastest times on the track, Bowyer climbed to 22nd before making his final pit stop with 41 laps to go.
From that point on, it was all on Bowyer to put his road course skills to the test and in no time at all, he would be slicing and dicing his way through the field as the final stage would go green for the remainder of the event.
With 25 laps to go, Bowyer was back inside the top-10, still running fast lap times as he set his sights on the top-five and the lead over the closing laps. 20 laps later, he would climb to second, but his Stewart-Haas teammate Kevin Harvick had a lead of over eight seconds on him, a gap that would insurmountable without a late caution.
The caution would come on the last lap, but by that point it was too late as the race was over at the time of caution, with Bowyer finishing second on the day and leaving Sonoma ranked 11th in points.
“Just never could really get the track position,” said Bowyer. “Some of it was self-inflicted, some of it wasn’t. To get a finish like that, you just can’t give up. That’s road racing. You’ve got to keep digging, no matter what. You’re not down and out until you’re out, you know? Things turned around there in that long run. That’s always my strong suit here. I was wanting it to be a lot hotter today, being easy on the tires and taking care of things.”
“We’ve just got to keep digging. We’re getting closer.”