Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – For Clint Bowyer, it’s all about getting better at a track and on a weekend when he has to be the absolute best.
Bowyer is still alive in the race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship—but just barely. After a 21st-place finish at Martinsville to start the Round of 8 and a problem-laden 26th-place result at Texas last Sunday, Bowyer has only one way to advance to the Championship 4 Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Quite simply, he must win Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The way the weekend started for Bowyer, that possibility seemed remote at best.
The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford struggled in Friday’s opening practice, posting the 19th fastest lap. In knockout qualifying that afternoon, Bowyer nailed down the 16th starting spot for Sunday’s race.
“I felt like we definitely improved from our practice,” Bowyer said. “Unfortunately, our result didn’t show much for it, but I think the car responded to some of the things that we changed going into qualifying for the better.
“Here, it’s all about the long runs and getting settled in and being good, having a good medium, middle-ground balance between these drastically different corners. (Turns) 1 and 2 are a lot different than 3 and 4, and you’ve got to have that balance. You’ve got to have a happy medium there.”
Bowyer’s approach to Sunday’s race will be as simple and straightforward as his mission—to get to the front and stay there. Bowyer concedes that an off-the-wall strategy isn’t likely to accomplish that objective.
“At the end of the day, stage points lead to good results,” Bowyer said. “Everybody wants stage points, because, if you’re getting stage points, you’re running up front, and you’ve got a shot at winning. That’s the way it is.
“If there’s some sort of opportunity that opens up, of course we’re going to take it at all costs, but at the end of the day, the reason people want stage points is because you’re running up front where you need to be running and in position to win the race.”
JEFF GORDON HEADLINES WEST COAST STOCK CAR HALL OF FAME NOMINEES
Four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon is one of 20 racing luminaries on this year’s list of West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame nominees.
Born in Vallejo, Calif., Gordon is third on the all-time victory list at NASCAR’s highest level with 93, behind only Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Gordon also will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on February 1.
The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame will hold its inductions on Thursday, June 20, 2019 to kick of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Sonoma Raceway.
Gordon isn’t the only marquee driver on a list that includes four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, who qualifies for the WCSC Hall on the basis of his IROC exploits, versatile Tom Sneva, sports car standout Tommy Kendall and George Follmer, who competed in everything from the NASCAR K&N Series to Formula 1.
“We are rapidly approach our 20th year as the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, and I can’t recall ever having a stouter list of nominees from many walks of competition who have touched all forms of stock car racing,” said WCSC Hall of Fame chairman Ken Clapp, who announced the current list of nominees on Saturday morning at ISM Raceway.
“As I look at these 20 nominations, I am not yet sure how I’m going to vote. I’m certain all of our board members will be equally challenged.”
Other nominees for the 2019 class are drivers Mike Bliss, Dave Byrd, Mike David, Ron Esau, Tom Gloy, Lance Hooper, Doug McCoun, Eric Norris, Tom Pettit II, Greg Pickett and Boris Said; car owners Gary Bechtel and Bob Bruncati; driver/promoter Garrett Evans; and crew chief Ernie Cope.
Fourth-generation driver Jeffrey Earnhardt announced via Twitter on Saturday morning that he has a nine-race NASCAR Xfinity Series deal to drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota next season. Earnhardt, the grandson of seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, will make his debut in the car in February at Daytona. Xtreme Concepts Inc., a company specializing in security solutions, will be his sponsor. “I’ve worked incredibly hard for this opportunity and I’ve got to thank Xtreme Concepts for making it happen,” Earnhardt said. “You see the level of expertise Joe Gibbs Racing has and the caliber of equipment they bring to the race track every week. As a driver, it’s exactly where you want to be. It’s the best opportunity I’ve had in my career, and I plan to make the most of it.”…
Kevin Harvick continued his mastery of ISM Raceway, topping the speed charts in both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice sessions on Saturday. Harvick ran 134.710 mph in the morning session and 135.125 mph in Happy Hour. The 2014 series champion, who has a three-point cushion over Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch entering the Round of 8 elimination race, was also fastest in consecutive 10-lap average at 134.072 mph. Busch had the 13th quickest single lap during final practice. Paul Menard cut a tire and wrecked with two minutes left in Happy Hour, forcing the team to roll out a backup car. He’ll start from the rear of the field on Sunday.