Has it really been 15 years since Clint Bowyer first climbed behind the wheel of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car?
On Sunday, the affable 40-year-old from Emporia, Kansas, will make his 500th start on NASCAR’s top tour when he takes the green flag at Talladega Superspeedway.
What a long, strange trip it has been from his start at Richard Childress Racing to stints at Michael Waltrip Racing and HScott Racing to his current tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing, where he has spent the last three seasons behind the wheel of the No. 14 Ford.
“It’s hard to believe this is the 500th start,” Bowyer said. “I have had a lot of help and support over the years, from the people who helped me get started in the early days in Kansas through all the NASCAR teams and sponsors I have worked with over the years. I have been very fortunate and very grateful for the career I’ve been able to enjoy.
“This sport has undergone a lot of changes since I’ve become a part of it, and we’ve had a lot of driver turnover in the last 15 years or so, but I'm still as big of fan of NASCAR as I was the day I first walked into the garage.”
In Bowyer’s first 499 Cup starts, he has posted 10 wins, 80 top fives, 211 top 10s and three poles. This season, Bowyer has seven top fives and 15 top 10s and qualified for the Playoffs for the third time since NASCAR established elimination rounds for the postseason in 2014. He is currently 10th in the standings.
Although Bowyer is still searching for his first win of 2019—and his first win since last June at Michigan, 41 races ago—this weekend the Cup Series returns to Talladega Superspeedway where he has two victories in 27 starts. Last year, Bowyer and his SHR teammates swept the first two rows in qualifying for the 1000Bulbs.com 500.
Bowyer started second and finished second behind teammate Aric Almirola.
“That was about as good as it gets in NASCAR,” Bowyer said. “We had the speed. Doug Yates and all of his team at Roush-Yates Engines gave us great power. Our chassis shop and the aero department were amazing because those Fords stuck to the track like glue. As the tires started wearing out, people started falling off. We didn’t. We were able to hold it wide open and stay in a line, and stay in that wake of the car in front of you, and we drove off from the field. It was cool to look in the mirror and see that train of Fords behind you.”
Almirola led the final lap of the race to give all four SHR drivers victories for the 2018 season. This year, Kevin Harvick is the only driver from the camp to be feted in Victory Lane. With six races to decide the title, Harvick and Bowyer are the only two drivers remaining in the Playoffs. Almirola was eliminated after the first round.
While some drivers are skittish entering Talladega, Bowyer approaches the 2.6-mile track as an opportunity to gain some ground in the standings. He’s currently just four points behind eighth-place William Byron with two races remaining in the second round.
“Attitude is a big part of this, but it goes toward being a student while you’re out there, learning as much as you can,” Bowyer said. “That’s the tricky thing about these situations at these racetracks.”
When asked whether he equates racing at Talladega with a high-speed chess match, Bowyer just scoffed.
“Hell no! Chess is sitting there, bored out of your mind, thinking of all the other things that you would rather be doing,” Bowyer said. “There’s a guy across from you, you’re trying to figure out if he’s actually into it or doing the same thing, bored out of his mind, thinking about all the things he would rather be doing.
“At Talladega, you’re literally freaking out, making knee-jerk-reaction decisions the whole race. You’re reacting to things that you don’t even remember. You’ll get out of the car at the end of the race and somebody’ll be like, ‘Man, that was an awesome move that won you the race!’ And you’re like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ There were at least 4,000 instances of what won that race or didn’t win that race."
For a driver who has trouble remembering what he had for lunch, Bowyer has to instill his superpowers to keep it together at Talladega.
“There’s so much going on inside the car, whether you’re listening to the spotter, or you’re looking at – as you’re listening to him, you’re following along to – that story in the mirror, right? You’re living it through the windshield," Bowyer said. "I mean, there are so many things that are going on, you just – you're flat out – don’t take it all in.
"I mean, your brain is registering so many things that, at the end of the race, you don’t even remember half of it.”