Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – KANSAS CITY, KS – There’s still a major hole in Clint Bowyer’s bucket list.
Bowyer hasn’t been able to win at Kansas Speedway, his home track. Neither could Carl Edwards, a Missouri driver who also claimed Kansas Speedway as his home turf.
For Bowyer, though, this year is different. The driver who grew up racing on dirt at nearby Lakeside Speedway made an important career move in 2017 when he accepted a ride with Stewart-Haas Racing.
This season, Bowyer has hit his stride, winning his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race with Stewart-Haas at Martinsville in March and running second to SHR teammate Kevin Harvick last week at Dover.
Accordingly, Bowyer comes to Kansas with an eminently competitive car and a chance to get the victory he craves most in Saturday night’s KC Masterpiece 400 (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“It’s always fun to get back here, especially when you’re running well, and everything is upbeat and having a ton of fun,” Bowyer said on Friday at Kansas Speedway. “There are so many positive things going on in my world – Stewart-Haas, the Ford camp, everything.
“It’s just been a ton of fun from the word go when we unloaded at Daytona. Certainly, rolling into Kansas off that momentum and having all that confidence on our side feels good, so I’m looking forward to the race (Saturday) night.”
With Bowyer, a victory at Kansas, where he watched Jeff Gordon win the track’s inaugural race in 2001, would guarantee a celebration of epic proportions.
“This is where it all started, right down the road at Lakeside,” Bowyer said. “Everybody knows my story here, watching the first race, and I just can’t think of a possible way to solidify everything and bring it all back home than to win right here.
“I won that Truck race a few years ago (2011), but to be able to roll into Victory Lane in a Cup race, I don’t even know if you’d find me in Victory Lane. I don’t know where you’d find me.”
EXPECTATIONS RISE FOR WILLIAM BYRON AS SUMMER APPROACHES
William Byron expects his fledgling Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career to get a boost during the summer months—and with good reason.
If the arc of his first season in Cup follows that of his first full-time campaign in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Byron has cause for optimism.
He didn’t win in the Xfinity Series until the 14th race of 2017, when he took the checkered flag at Iowa Speedway. He won again the following week in the July race at Daytona and went on to collect victories at Indianapolis and Phoenix on the way to the series championship.
After a rough start to his rookie season in the Cup series, the 20-year-old driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has finished outside the top 20 only once in the last eight races.
“The beginning of the year was a big shock, especially Atlanta and some of those places, but now we’re just getting a lot closer, and that’s allowing us to run closer to the top 15,” Byron said on Friday at Kansas Speedway. “Summer has normally been the best results for me. Normally, May is a really good month for me, so looking to start that off strong here.
“Dover was pretty solid (14th). I feel like the May tracks are really indicative for what the rest of the year looks like with the 1.5-miles. Charlotte is a race track that is very similar to Kentucky and other places. I feel like the summer has always been the area where we start to hit on what we need in the race car, and I think that is my confidence in the team and then showing them that I can produce with what I get in the race car. I think we’re starting to get that feel that I want, and it’s just kind of around the corner, I guess.”
ACCIDENT AND INJURY BEHIND HIM, ARIC ALMIROLA RELISHES RETURN TO KANSAS
You couldn’t blame Aric Almirola if he had mixed feelings about returning to the spring race at Kansas Speedway, but in a new ride, with improving results, the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford isn’t looking back.
Last May at the 1.5-mile speedway, Almirola got by far the worst of a brutal crash that also involved Joey Logano and Danica Patrick. Almirola missed seven races because of a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra.
Nevertheless, he doesn’t find it hard to put the wreck out of his mind.
“I don’t think it’s difficult at all,” Almirola said. “I show up to the race track every weekend and just go and focus on trying to get my car handling the way I want it to and fast and ready to go race for that weekend. Every weekend is a different challenge, because it’s a different track, but I never really let my mind drift back to that place, if you will.
“When I came back here in the fall (last year), it was probably a little bit more top of mind coming back here just a few months after breaking my back here in May. But then to go through that weekend, and we ran really well and I think we finished ninth, so to come back here and kind of get somewhat of redemption on the race track and sort of put that to bed and come here and run as well as we did and run top 10, I think it’s a non-issue.”