Column: As NASCAR Playoffs Approach, Clint Bowyer Isn’t Settling For Second Best

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS, NV – With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs set to begin Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer will be the first to tell you he’s not satisfied with “best-of-the-rest” status.

True enough, NASCAR’s so-called Big Three—Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr.— have dominated the action during much of the 26-race regular season, winning seven, six and four races, respectively.

Bowyer and Brad Keselowski, who triumphed in back-to-back crown jewel events at Darlington and Indianapolis, are the only other multiple winners on the circuit so far this season. To Bowyer, the difference between his effort in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas racing Ford and that of Harvick, his teammate, comes down to consistent performance, not lack of speed.

“Our speed is there, our capabilities are there, but we’re struggling to put races together,” Bowyer said last Friday after a Mobil 1 appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. “We’ve got to get that nipped in the bud.

“I’ve been at the shop this week and been in a lot of conversations with (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and the guys, just trying to build that confidence and that self-esteem, that communication, open that line back up, make sure that there’s no rough edges as far as that goes … try to get everything smoothed up before we get into the Playoffs.”

Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard was a good start. Bowyer won the first stage and finished fifth, showing excellent speed and gathering momentum for the Playoffs.

Ask any of his teammates: Bowyer has little patience for team meetings, and he’s usually the first to leave. But if he has a point to make, he’s quick to get it across, and he expects the same from those who support his efforts.

“I’m a no-BS guy,” Bowyer said as he prepares for Sunday’s Playoff opener — the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “I hate meetings, but I do use ’em. If I’m going to a meeting, I’m going to speak my mind, and I want people to speak theirs and get to the bottom of it. I don’t want to be there for three hours and get to the bottom of it.”

Bowyer believes his team is capable of contending for the championship, but he concedes that the elimination system at work in the Playoffs also may open up opportunities to drivers who haven’t been at their best during the regular season.

“Our race team is one of the best I’ve ever had. This is one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had to win a championship. We’re definitely capable of winning a championship and competing at that level. All you’ve got to do is put together 10 races, and, really, within that, you’ve got to focus on three at a time.

“That changes the game big-time. That opens up the door for a lot of different people. A guy like Jimmie Johnson … that opens the door right back up for a seven-time champion—wake up a sleeping giant.”

Bowyer is well-known for keeping things loose within the organization. His quick wit is irrepressible, and his penchant for a party well-known. That comes in handy when he has to keep Bugarewicz off the ledge.

“I’ve got a young crew chief,” Bowyer said. “He’s as intense as anybody I’ve ever been around in my life. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I’ve never encountered a crew chief that’s as intense as he is. He expects results. He works his ass off, and he expects big things.

“It’s hard to answer that every single time. But the thing I’ve always been able to do is keep the pressure off a guy like that and not let the heat get to him and enable him to make the right decisions on strategy and things like that without feeling pressure.”

With two victories in hand Bowyer and “Buga” have enjoyed a relatively stress-free summer. What remains to be seen is how they’ll perform when the pressure ramps up on Sunday.