It’s been a messy year for Clint Bowyer.
Michael Waltrip Racing dissolved around him, leaving a massive cloud hanging over Bowyer’s future.
Bowyer, an Emporia, Kan., native, was the NASCAR Sprint Cup runner-up in 2012, part of a run of five top-10 finishes in seven seasons.
He slipped all the way to 19th last season, missing out on the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time since 2011.
It was, in some ways, borderline miraculous that Bowyer made it into the Chase this season, especially given the ownership situation.
“It’s been a crazy year, man,” Bowyer said. “First of all, you look at the competition, it’s been my worst year I’ve ever had in my career. Then, all of a sudden, the last 10 races or so I’ve been pretty darn good.”
Bowyer found some speed down the stretch, claiming four top-10 finishes in the final seven races and earning a spot in the Chase for the sixth time in his career.
He was quickly eliminated, failing to make the cut when four drivers in the Challenger Round were eliminated after the AAA 400 on Oct. 4 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
But the future looks much brighter for Bowyer, who announced earlier in the month that’d he drive for HScott Motorsports in 2016 before taking over for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017.
Stewart has announced that next season will be his last in the Sprint Cup Series. Announcing his replacement, he lauded Bowyer’s “immaculate hair” and “great personality,” two things that weren’t affected by Bowyer’s on-track circumstances.
“It’s been a tough situation to be in,” Bowyer said, “but I’m extremely excited about next year and the following years. I’ve got a bright future ahead, but there’s still some racing to be done.”
Really, it’s a dream situation for Bowyer.
“It’s obviously a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but with that opportunity you lose one of the boys,” Bowyer said. “That is a champion of the sport, a guy that I’ve always enjoyed just because of our backgrounds.”
Bowyer has always admired Stewart, who shares a background and affection for dirt-track racing.
“He just means so much to me as a race car driver, my upbringing, my background and everything, he’s a big part of that,” Bowyer said. “When I was racing at Lakeside (Speedway), running my Modifieds and my Late Models that run at Eldora (Speedway in Ohio), he’s just a big part of my racing away from what you see on Sundays. To be even affiliated with Tony Stewart, let along being the person that’s going to take over his seat, it’s just an awesome situation and a dream come true.”
Bowyer has long coveted a spot with Stewart-Haas, which has an affiliation with both Hendrick Motorsports and HScott Motorsports.
“I loved the opportunity that I had with the people and the culture at (Michael Waltrip Racing),” Bowyer said. “… That day is over with and that brings nervous times, for a race car driver or anybody. So, you have lost your job. What does that mean? What do we do? To be coming out of all of that and smell like a rose … is amazing. It truly has become the best opportunity that I have ever had to win races and compete for a championship.”
The Stewart-Haas team is ready to welcome Bowyer with open arms.
“Clint will be great,” said Kurt Busch, who already drives for Stewart-Haas. “He’ll fit into our system well with Danica (Patrick), Kevin (Harvick) and myself. … I know he’ll do a great job. He’s looking for this chance to be on a top-tier team. Replacing a legend driver and a champion driver is a tough thing to do, but we’ve got until 2017 to worry about that.”
First, Bowyer will do his best to raise the profile of HScott Motorsports, which also owns the Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett teams in the Sprint Cup series.
“Clint’s personality and enthusiasm for racing is going to be something we are going to welcome to our organization,” said Harry Scott Jr., who owns and operates HScott Motorsports. “Although he will be with us only for one year, we plan to make the most out of it on and off the track. Our goal next year will be to win races, to make the Chase and contend for a championship.”
Bowyer’s long-term sponsor, 5-hour Energy, agreed to continue the agreement through next season as well.
“I think Clint will help us long-term because he is basically going to be able to help us kind of reset our program and set the bar higher going forward,” Scott said. “With his experience, again, and his leadership and his enthusiasm I think it will be contagious amongst all the team members. Going forward, he will help us form an even stronger relationship with Stewart-Haas and that will obviously be beneficial to us.”