Clint Bowyer has come a long way from the fun-loving character who skidded around in modifieds on the dirt track at Lakeside Speedway and worked in an auto dealership’s body shop in Emporia before taking the phone call from Richard Childress Racing that changed his life.
Bowyer has won a NASCAR Xfinity championship. He’s won 10 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races and finished second in the standings in 2012. He owns the car dealership where he once toiled. He built and donated a recreation center for his hometown. He’s married. Has two children.
And at the end of this month, Bowyer turns 40. Lordy, Lordy.
“Who would ever have thought?” Bowyer said as he prepared for Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway. “It’s a weird feeling. I remember my dad turning 40 and my parents celebrating their 40th birthdays, and how young I was.
“It’s part of life. I’m looking forward to it. I think 40 is a big number,’’ added Bowyer, who will celebrate his May 30 milestone in the Bahamas after the May 26 Coca-Cola 600.
Bowyer, in his 14th season in the Cup series, believes he still has a lot of racing in him beyond his 40th birthday
“I think I’m a better racer now than I’ve ever been,” said Bowyer, in his third season driving the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford “I’m more experienced, more prepared, more everything. I feel like I’m lined up with the best opportunity I’ve ever had. My team is good. We made the final eight in the playoff last year, and we have to go out and do better this year.
“Having kids and a family have only made me more focused and a better racer.”
Indeed, Bowyer’s being joined by then 3-year old son Cash in victory lane at Martinsville after his first win in six years was one of the most poignant moments of the 2018 season.
“Having Cash come along and his asking, ‘Who’s going to win?’ was fuel for the fire that I needed,” Bowyer said. “And darned if we didn’t get it done. I don’t want to let myself down, I don’t want to let my team down, but I’m damn sure not going to let a 4-year old down.”
Bowyer also takes heart in the fact that many drivers are at their best in their 40s. Teammate Kevin Harvick was 39 when he won the 2014 Cup championship and has been one of the Final Four contenders for the past three years. SHR owner Tony Stewart won his third title at 40 in 2011; and Jimmie Johnson won his seventh championship at 41.
“You’re only as good as your equipment,” said Bowyer, speaking from the humbling experience of driving for some underfunded teams before replacing Stewart in the No. 14 Mustang. “There’s not a guy out there who can drive a slow car fast. You’ve got to have fast cars, and you’ve got to have the experience and knowledge and the talent to be able to utilize your team and get the most of it.”
Bowyer enters Saturday’s race in 10th in the standings after a roller coaster start to the season. The No. 14 team got off to a slow start adapting to the new rules packages for 2019, but in the four races before Talladega, Bowyer posted four top seven finishes, including a second at Texas and a third at Richmond, and scored the most points of any driver except points leader Kyle Busch.
But Bowyer was wiped out in a crash on lap 10 at Talladega and a competitive ninth last week at Dover. Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway may be on his home track, but it’s a place where he has struggled mightily since finishing second in 2007. Bowyer was 15th and 13th in last year’s two races at Kansas and has just one top 10 in his last 11 starts at the track that sits 108 miles from his hometown.
“If I ever looked at a challenge and a spot on the schedule where I have room to improve, and need to improve, it’s definitely Kansas Speedway,” said Bowyer, who qualified third for Saturday night’s race. “I’m frustrated that I don’t run better at home than I do. It’s possible to try too hard, and you want to do well so badly, that I’ve made mistakes and haven’t been able to get good finishes.
“For whatever reason, the darn track … we just don’t mesh, especially since the (2012) repave. …This new package we’re running is going to present a whole new way you race that track, and with that will be a new opportunity.”