Clint Bowyer doesn’t believe recent changes to Bristol Motor Speedway will really affect the way he races at the half-mile track.
However, he does believe it will make a major change to the overall action at Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race.
“I didn’t really run in the top groove a lot, but it’s going to shake things up because a lot of guys did,” said the driver of the No. 15 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. “I think into the runs when guys would run way up high, I don’t think you’ll see that anymore. When I was there for the tire test, I think it’s a lot better tire package to put on a good show for the fans.”
Bowyer, an Emporia, Kans. native who now lives in Clemmons, N.C., explained why he sees the tires being such a factor in the upcoming race.
“I think the tire is going to allow much better racing with a little more fall-off than we had,” he said. “Taking away that preferred groove deep in a run, it’s going to bunch us up together a lot more. I hope there’s a lot of excitement and we see the sparks fly.”
It could mean a shake-up in the point standings, although it appears Bowyer is a sure bet to make the 10-race ‘Chase to the Championship.’ Don’t tell that to the 34-year-old driver, who doesn’t want to talk about clinching a playoff spot until it becomes official.
“Anything can happen at a track like Bristol,” he said. “We need a couple more solid weekends before I can breathe really well. To get to the Chase, we need more of those solid, single-digit finishes.”
He should have a good shot at one of those finishes at Bristol.
Twice, he’s raced to third-place finishes and also has a Bristol victory in the Nationwide Series. He even has an ace in the hole, since he, Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton were the only drivers chosen for the tire test to try out the new racing surface.
“Anytime you get to do one of those tire tests, it gets you ahead of the curve,” he said. “Everybody catches up through practice sessions, but it definitely helps with your mapping, simulations and all the other stuff in the engineering world.”
The engineering has worked in Bowyer’s favor this season. He made a change from Richard Childress Racing to Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of last season. While some questioned the move, it proved to be a good fit. It was also a case of good timing as MWR entered into a working agreement with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“It’s been good to see this play through,” said Bowyer, who won the 2008 Nationwide Series championship with RCR. “Anytime you move from a place you’ve been your whole career, it’s very scary. There were so many unknowns, but I couldn’t be happier with where we’re at. Everybody at MWR, my teammates have welcomed me. It’s been a lot of fun.”
As one of the sport’s most sought after free agents, Bowyer had the opportunity to visit many of the other race shops. The decision to go with the Waltrip team ultimately came down to the right feel.
“I went around to all the shops and talked to everybody,” he said. “It seemed like wherever I went, everything led to MWR. I just liked what I saw, the direction of where the engineering department, the whole company was headed. I just went for it, felt it was a good home for me. Thank God, I was right.”
In addition to himself, it’s worked out for teammate Martin Truex Jr. as the MWR team appears on the verge of getting two teams in the Chase for a first time ever.
Part of the success has been the pairing of Bowyer with crew chief Brian Pattie. The teaming really paid off at the road courses where Bowyer scored his sixth career Cup Series victory earlier this season at Sonoma, and followed it up with a fourth-place finish at Watkins Glen.
“It’s just (crew chief) Brian Pattie and everybody on our team,” he said. “I just had really good race cars. I had been improving, getting better every year, but he certainly gave me a car capable of running well. So, it was a good road course year for me.”
Bowyer began racing motocross at five years old and racked up more than 200 wins before progressing to dirt-track racing. It’s still a passion of his with Bowyer winning Tony Stewart’s ‘Prelude to the Dream’ charity race in 2011. In addition, Bowyer owns dirt-track cars driven by Jonathan Davenport and Jared Landers on the Lucas Oil Late Model Series. He’s definitely a hands-on owner, even working alongside them in the shop at times.
Bowyer said he is thankful for all the good fortune and those who helped him along the way.
“It’s unbelievable to have all the people who helped me get where I am at,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted. This is what I love to do and what I wanted to do my whole life. To be able to make a living doing this, it’s unreal.”