NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runner-up brings Midwest flavor to international event
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Clint Bowyer had plenty of first impressions from his first 90-minute stint in his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut Saturday -- from inside the car and out. And instead of worrying about staying awake for the twice-around-the-clock race, NASCAR’s famously amped-up Sprint Cup Series championship runner-up was more concerned about how or when he’d ever grab some sleep.
“The guys on the pit box don’t sleep,” Bowyer said. “I was asking them, what stint they sleep, and they don’t.
“They have an espresso machine and I have a case of 5-Hour (Energy drink), so we’ll charge on.”
“What time is it anyway?”
“Seven-thirty?” he repeated when given the answer, “We’re almost to halfway right?”
"Of course it’s their biggest race of the year. Our Daytona 500 is exactly like that with the excitement in the air like that, especially down on the starting grid."
As the pressroom erupted in laughter it was clear NASCAR’s Bowyer had won over the wine-and-cheese sports car types just as his aw-shucks Midwest charm has made him popular with NASCAR fans. But he professed again Saturday that he felt very much out of his element; i.e. not in Kansas anymore.
“I was going to wear cowboy boots to this deal, but there’s no rednecks in this,” Bowyer said jokingly Friday during final practice. “Looks like a lot of rich guys to me.”
Bowyer figured he had 10 good laps -- or about 20 minutes -- around the 3.56-mile Daytona road course before the green flag fell Saturday afternoon for his 24-hour debut.
“But it is a big track so those were long laps,” he said, only half-joking.
Standing with fellow NASCAR stars, 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, who later became a three-time winner at Rolex 24, during a photo opportunity on Friday, Bowyer explained that he had knocked two seconds off his lap times simply by the team hiring a spotter.
Because he was driving a slower GT-class production based Ferrari, Bowyer was slower than the race’s marquee Daytona Prototypes that began lapping the GT cars 15 minutes into the race. And it was an adjustment.
“I still don’t have any answers on where I’m supposed to be when these lunatics in the faster (Daytona Prototype) cars come blowing by me 50-mph faster,” Bowyer said to McMurray and Montoya.
“There is no answer because no one drives the same place twice,” Montoya said, genuinely trying to reassure him.
What was McMurray’s advice?
“What you need to do is drive your own line.”
But Bowyer wasn’t convinced.
“If I do that, the driver will be cussing me in some other language while I’m trying to get out of his way,” Bowyer said while laughing. “All I can see is headlights, and they get real big in the window.”
The language barrier at this international event of racing’s Who’s Who came up again during Bowyer’s first stint.
“The guys that talk to you, I can’t understand them, other than when they say to pit,” Bowyer said with a smile. “I understand ‘pit.’ ”
Despite earning his first Sprint Cup Series road course victory at Sonoma, Calif., last season, Bowyer was unyieldingly humble about what he brought to the 24-hour effort: fun. And what he hoped to get out of it: bonding time with his Sprint Cup Series co-owners, Rob Kauffman and Michael Waltrip, whom he was co-driving with this weekend.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner Waltrip said he was impressed with how quickly Bowyer got up to speed in the Ferrari during this limited practice.
Even after accidentally hitting the engine “kill” switch while climbing into the No. 56 Ferrari 458 for his first stint Saturday evening, Bowyer was able to win back several positions he lost on pit road. The car was 26th overall, 13th in the GT class at midnight. It finished eighth in the class and 16th overall on Sunday.
“Obviously, because of that we couldn’t get going and lost a lot of track position, and I’m super bummed out about that,” Bowyer said. “The biggest thing is getting used to the car. Man, it’s hard to be consistent out there. You can’t ever get a clean lap. About the time you do, you’ll go in the chicane and there will be dirt everywhere and you revisit your dirt racing experience.”
But he was also quick to stress, “The cars are a lot of fun to drive. They’re lightweight and pretty loose. But with the paddle shifting you can downshift too (quickly) and get yourself in trouble.
“I’ve gotten myself in trouble a couple times, had to shoot through the chicane then have a conversation with myself to calm down a little bit; then I was slow, so had to have another conversation with myself to pick it back up.”
Judging by his demeanor after his time behind the wheel the conversation went well. He was taking in the experience -- all it had to offer.
“Really, really cool there the atmosphere before the race,” said Bowyer, before jokingly suggesting that “the starting grid is definitely in my opinion some room to improve in our sport after what I saw.
“Of course it’s their biggest race of the year. Our Daytona 500 is exactly like that with the excitement in the air like that, especially down on the starting grid.
“But there was body paint. I saw body paint and I thought that was a great addition to the day. And some of them had umbrellas. That would be one area that could be worked on.”
And then after the last reporter’s question, Bowyer turned the tables.
“Raise your hands, how many of you are going to stay up 24 hours?” Bowyer asked, acknowledging the few who raised their hands.
“Well, have fun with that,” he said, standing up and smiling and heading out of the media center to take some more in.