By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Contact under caution was the ‘highlight’ of the day for Clint Bowyer.
The Drydene 400 was uncharacteristically quiet in regard to cautions at Dover International Speedway. With just one natural caution, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid drivers had little chance move up the running order.
Bowyer’s No. 14 ITsaavy / Haas Ford Mustang started mid-pack. While several of his playoff competitors had trouble early, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver quietly moved forward.
Bowyer didn’t break into the top-10 until the end of the second stage. Just when it looked as if he could continue his forward movement, contact with Brad Keselowski under caution changed everything. Both Bowyer and Keselowski struggled after the contact with the SHR taking the checkered flag in 10th.
Bowyer admitted that he struggled throughout the race.
“We started 17th and finished 10th. It was hard to pass. Extremely hard to pass. Almost impossible. You had to have a really, really good car. It was just kind of a struggle out there all day long for us. Our ITsavvy Ford was about where we came out about where we ran.”
The race was dominated by Denny Hamlin and eventual race winner Kyle Larson. Bowyer ran just outside the top-10 for much of the race, and struggled to stay inside the top-10 after the contact.
After the events of Dover, Bowyer is 10th on the Playoff Grid, four points behind the cutoff, held by William Byron. He is 67-points behind points leader Truex.
Looking ahead to next weekend’s 1000bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Bowyer’s odds are about the same as the rest of the field. The unpredictability of superspeedway racing could leave the 40-year-old at the mercy of the draft in his 500th start.
Bowyer is ninth among active drivers at Talladega with an average finish of 16.07. He was two wins at the 2.66-mile tri-oval in 2010 and 2011. Daniel Hemric has the best average finish, 5.00, but has just one start at Talladega. Bowyer’s driver rating is 71.8.
Now Bowyer and the entire No. 14 team will look to avoid ‘the big one’ and use the draft to their advantage as they attempt to secure a spot in the Round of Eight.