Column By: JORDAN BIANCHI / NASCAR – KANSAS CITY, KS – It doesn’t take much to ramp Clint Bowyer up, but racing on his home track in front of a throng of friends and family takes the excitement level of the Emporia, Kansas, native to whole other realm.
Add in the fact that he’s in the midst of a career resurgence and Stewart-Haas Racing has emerged as one of the dominant teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, has Bowyer giddy about Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Kansas Speedway.
Bowyer finished second to teammate Aric Almirola last week at Talladega Superspeedway, a result that moved him 21-points above the provisional cut line entering the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas. He is now one of eight drivers who would transfer to the semifinals.
“It is so important and the stakes are high,” Bowyer said. “It is an adrenaline rush for a racecar driver. Rolling into home, a place you want to win at more than anything, and you are racing for something and in the hunt. You don’t have time for any distractions or anything else. It is go time. The money is on the line. You got to go out there and get it.”
And Bowyer doesn’t mask what a win at Kansas would personally mean to him, as it is something he’s not yet accomplished in 20 career starts on the mile-and-a-half speedway.
“So many emotions for so many different reasons that would be gratifying,” he said. “Being home, being with family and friends and everything that this area means to me. The fan following, the people that helped me hone my skills over there at Lakeside [Speedway] or I-70 Speedway. These are the guys I raced against to learn what it is I do and made me the racer that I am.”
Not since 2012 has Bowyer come into Kansas in the position he currently finds himself, harboring both realistic hopes to win the race and as a viable championship contender. He snapped a 190-race, five-year winless streak in March at Martinsville Speedway, then followed with a win at Michigan International Speedway in June.
Bowyer’s reemergence coincides with SHR fully blossoming in its second year fielding Fords following a long association with Chevrolet. For the first time the team co-owned by Gene Haas and Tony Stewart has seen all four of its drivers, Almirola, Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, reach Victory Lane. And as it stands, each driver would earn a spot in the Round of 8. SHR’s dominance was on full display at Talladega where its drivers ran 1-2-3-4 for the majority of the race, combining to lead 155 of a possible 193 laps.
“We are the team to beat,” Bowyer said. “We are the organization that is on top right now.
“Everyone works hard and are racers and were damn proud of what we accomplished last week. We all know that we have to continue to do that and continue to get better because if we are not, the next team is. There is a lot of work to be done.”
Almirola is assured of advancing to the Round of 8 because of his Talladega win, while Harvick (+63 point above the cutoff) and Busch (+30) are both well positioned to join their teammate.
As for Bowyer, his chances of advancement is a little more tenuous, though completely in his control.
“I am hoping it will be smooth sailing,” Bowyer said. “It never is. When the stakes are high like this and everything is on the line it is never easy. Look at the competition in the garage area. If you think it will be a cake walk, we have a 21-point lead or something and that isn’t enough.”