When Clint Bowyer’s engine blew early in last year’s Daytona 500, he had a premonition that it would be a long season.
Bowyer, of Emporia, Kan., went winless for the second straight year and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in three years, and he didn’t hide his disappointment.
“We’ve got to get things turned around,” Bowyer said. “We have to prove ourselves, and I knew something just didn’t feel right last year at the Daytona 500, because we’ve always been able to come down here and run pretty good and get the year started off right and leave with momentum and excitement and confidence.
“We were all dejected leaving the first race so that was not very good.”
Bowyer qualified his No. 15 Toyota ninth for Sunday’s race and hopes to end a career-long 77-race winless streak dating to Oct. 13, 2012 at Charlotte.
“The Daytona 500 for me is so challenging … it’s frustrating, it’s exciting,” said Bowyer, who despite finishing 42nd last year had fourth-place finishes in The Great American Race in 2009 and 2010. “It’s just a weird weekend because it’s our kickoff to the season, so everybody is excited, and it’s the first day of school, but, oh by the way, it’s the biggest day of school.”
Bowyer, 34, will try to relieve the pressure of the most prestigious race of the season by serving as co-host for the “Daytona 500 Bash at the Beach,” a one-hour prime-time special at 8 p.m. Saturday on Fox.
After all, a guy’s got to have some fun, too.
“It’s always important to have fun, because if you’re having fun, then the people around you are having fun,” Bowyer said. “It lets them be at ease, and I feel like it allows them to do their job and not be pressured.
“There’s so much pressure in this business anyway. Don’t get me wrong, when we have a year like we had last year, I was having fun on the outside, but behind closed doors I wasn’t having much fun in meetings and things like that.
“Selfishly, you’re really mad and frustrated, and you want to point fingers, but there are so many people who work so hard no matter if you run good or bad. Those people are still working and putting that same effort in and probably more so when you’re running bad.”
Unlike several Sprint Cup teams, Michael Waltrip Racing did not make a crew chief change and kept Brian Pattie in charge of Bowyer’s car. But the team has restructured some other responsibilities in the shop and garage.
“The camaraderie at the race shop is already way better,” Bowyer said. “I feel like there were a lot of people with their hands tied, maybe too managed and not let them really showcase their talents. You have to allow that talent to showcase and give them an opportunity, and some of those guys at MWR didn’t.
“I feel like now it’s a group effort. When you’re in the meetings there’s a lot of people and a lot of voices being heard and you didn’t necessarily hear that last year.”
That’s made it easier to wipe away last season and start fresh.
“I had to be reminded at media day (in Charlotte) a couple weeks ago just how bad our season was … I forgot about it,” Bowyer said. “It bummed me out. I left and called Pattie on the way home and said, ‘Do you realize how bad we (stunk) last year? Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again.’
“He assured me that it won’t. Love his attitude. He’s a lot like me, he’s a racer and every time I’ve ever had him tell me it will be better, and I’ll do a better job, he’s been spot on and he’s done that for me. I believe him.”
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Friday: NextEra Energy Resources 250, Daytona International Speedway, 6:30 p.m. FS1
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Saturday: Alert Today Florida 300, Daytona International Speedway, 2:30 p.m. FS1
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Sunday: Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway, noon FOX