It takes a lot to make Clint Bowyer nervous.
Most of his weekends are spent pushing the limits of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour on a track with 42 other cars as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
He’s used to life on the razor’s edge, but Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan., admitted to battling a swarm of butterflies Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals invited Bowyer, who is in town for the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 on Saturday at Kansas Speedway, to throw out the first pitch, an honor he’s received before.
Bowyer, 35, didn’t expect to be presented with his own authentic Royals jersey and invited to take hacks during batting practice before the game.
He took three rounds, swatting several balls into shallow right field with a slight uppercut swing with Royals manager Ned Yost and owner David Glass among the onlookers.
“All you’ve got to do there is make sure you make contact,” Bowyer said. “I wanted to rip back and get a hold of one, but it just wasn’t in me. My nervous level was too high.”
He felt a bit more comfortable as he toed the rubber and delivered a strike with the ceremonial first pitch to Jeremy Guthrie. The two became friends when Guthrie visited Phoenix International Raceway with his kids for a few races during spring training.
“It’s a neat honor to be able to do (throw out the first pitch), but with that honor it’s pretty nerve-racking, especially you walk through the dugout and you’re down there hanging out with all these (awesome) baseball players,” Bowyer said. “They’re all like, ‘C’mon, baby, get it started out right now.’ It just adds a whole other element of nervousness. Fortunately, I was throwing to my boy, Guthrie, and he helped me out.”
When Bowyer made his first NASCAR-affiliated trip to Kauffman Stadium, he was a relatively unknown driver on the Busch Series, now the Xfinity Series.
Even NASCAR flacks didn’t know who he was shortly after he signed with Richard Childress Racing in 2004, so there was no red carpet rolled out.
Things are a little different now for Bowyer, who also became a father on Oct. 1 when he and his wife, Lorra, had a son, Cash Aaron.
“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that you were getting your first start in the Cup Series and now it’s been 10 years ago,” Bowyer said, shaking his head. “Time flies.”
Bowyer also was highly sought after by Yost, who is an unabashed NASCAR fan and actually worked as Dale Earnhardt’s “rehydration engineer” for nine races during the 1994 baseball strike.
“The first thing I did was I brought Clint in, shut the door and he helped me fill out my fantasy team this week,” Yost said. “I needed that expert opinion.”
Yost is in a fantasy racing league and also helps run a weekly clubhouse pool among Royals players and staff.
Bowyer, who cut his teeth racing at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., also gave Yost advice for his NASCAR fantasy teams before the second game of the World Series in October.
“It’s been a great story,” Bowyer said. “Anywhere you go in the country, you wear your KC hat, and everybody’s like, ‘Man, they’re kicking (butt).’ That’s really, really neat to see.”
Bowyer’s favorite Royal growing up was George Brett.
“You think about NASCAR, and right off the bat, you think Dale Earnhardt,” Bowyer said. “If you’re a kid from Kansas and you think baseball, you’re thinking George Brett all the way.”
Bowyer, who was the 2012 Sprint Cup runner-up and 2008 Xfinity Series champion, would love to enjoy a similar postseason run, but he’s got some ground to make up after a sluggish start to the 2015 season. He heads to Kansas Speedway this week sitting 17th in the Sprint Cup points standings.
“It’s been rough,” said Bowyer, who left Richard Childress Racing for Michael Waltrip Racing after the 2011 season. “Obviously, every time you start a year, you’re down a path — with your aero program, with your engine program, with everything.
“The weird thing, the hard thing, the difficult thing about our sport is right off the bat you go to Daytona, which is completely different than any other racetrack we go to, so you kind of throw that out the window, whether you have a good run or a bad. The only thing you can take from that is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of fun, some energy onto the West Coast swing.”
As with most teams based in Charlotte, N.C., Bowyer’s cars for the three-race swing through Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana, Calif., were built and shipped in advance.
“When you get to Vegas, if you find out you’re off a little bit … you’re a month behind,” Bowyer said. “And that’s what happened. You get off the least little bit and now you’re really two months behind … and now it’s catchup time.”
Bowyer felt like he had a fast car at Talladega last weekend, but he wound up 30th after a late-race crash.
He’ll bring a brand-new race car to Kansas Speedway, so this weekend serves as something of a reset button.
“Completely starting over, ground zero, different aero platform,” Bowyer said. “The horsepower boys, the engine guys out in California, brought a different engine package, a different engine spec for us. We’re looking to really change and turn a corner here at Kansas.”
He’ll have a few more fans rooting for him in the Royals’ clubhouse after Wednesday’s appearance.
“Boy, I would love to see him win this race at Kansas,” Yost said. “That would be great. … We know that Clint grew up here and Clint’s a huge Royals fan. We love Clint Bowyer.”