Confidence has been elusive the last few years for Clint Bowyer, but that’s no longer an issue as he returns Saturday to his home track for the KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway.
By his estimation, it’s been five years — five exasperating and mostly checkered flag-free years — since Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan., brimmed with so much swagger.
“My confidence is as high as it’s been in a long, long time,” Bowyer said during a recent phone interview with The Star. “My confidence in myself, in my race team, within our organization, our manufacturer — things are really, really good surrounding me right now.”
Bowyer smashed a 190-race winless streak March 26 in the snow-delayed STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway — a drought that started at Kansas in October 2012.
“I just wanted one of those grandfather clocks,” Bowyer said of the traditional gift awarded to the race winner at Martinsville.
But it wasn’t just the relief of getting back to Victory Lane and smashing beers with fans in the stands afterward that has Bowyer riding high.
He’s now in his second season driving the No. 14 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and is on pace to match a career high with 23 top-10 finishes, having already racked up seven in 11 races after a runner-up finish behind teammate Kevin Harvick last week at Dover International Speedway.
“We learned a lot last year,” Bowyer said. “We learned a lot about our team, our package, our communication and our people. We also learned a lot about our cars. We got our cars across the board way better. They’re responding to adjustments. The things I’m accustomed to getting in having, I’m seeing and feeling.”
It’s easy to forget after so many years without a sniff of a Cup Series win, but during a two-year stretch from 2012-13 only Jimmie Johnson (48) had more top-10 finishes than Bowyer (42), who was tied with Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Bowyer was situated among auto racing’s most vibrant stars, coming off a runner-up finish and poised to post double-digit top-five finishes for the second straight season.
It all started to unravel late in 2013, when Bowyer’s late-race spin spin at Richmond contributed to Michael Waltrip Racing’s sudden spiral as NASCAR issued its stiffest penalties yet for attempted manipulation of the playoff-qualification standings.
NAPA Auto Parts pulled its team sponsorship and Michael Waltrip Racing closed shop within two years, leaving Bowyer stuck driving for low-budget HScott Motorsports in 2016 and having virtually no chance to collect another win.
With Stewart-Haas switching manufacturers last season and Bowyer starting from scratch with a new team, frustration continued to mount — but it was all released in a tire-melting celebration six weeks ago at Martinsville.
“Last year, it was a lot of new,” Bowyer said. “We just didn’t have the finishes and the success we’ve got going this year, for sure. I have that confidence back. It seems like week in and week out, whatever track condition or wherever were at, we’ve got the speed. That gets me excited to go back home, be in front of the home crowd, compete, and run for a win in front of everybody.”
The only thing that could make it better would be an elusive breakthrough at Kansas Speedway.
“I’m looking forward coming back to Kansas,” Bowyer said. “Our cars are really good right now, and I’ve got a new bullet (motor) for Kansas, so we’ll be good.”