Bowyer on return to site of scandal
April 25, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
RICHMOND, Va. -- A bright-eyed, buoyant Clint Bowyer showed up in the media center Friday morning at Richmond International Raceway, freshly married and sharing wisecracks and tall tales about the reception crashers from among the NASCAR community during the series' off weekend.
"It's heavy," Bowyer said as he showed off his wedding band. "It's for-evah."
It was a sharp contrast to the Bowyer who hemmed and hawed his way through his last Richmond media center visit, for the post-race press conference here last September, as details and speculation slowly emerged in the wake of the controversial finish to the Federated Auto Parts 400. A curious spinout by Bowyer in the late stages affected the outcome of the race, eventually shaking up the sport, his Michael Waltrip Racing team and altering the face of last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
Rather than dwell on the events and aftermath of last September, Bowyer was eager to distance himself from the past and turn his attention to one of his best tracks and ending a 49-race losing streak that dates to late 2012.
"Obviously, looking forward to having another good run here and shaking that off from last year," Bowyer said. "It was a bad deal, and I get it, but this is one of my favorite race tracks."
Bowyer said that he's felt some of his fan base coming back into the fold in the wake of last year's cheating scandal, which polarized fans and drivers alike here last September.
"I mean, hey everybody knows me. I love to have fun in this sport. I appreciate this sport and try to give back every chance I get," Bowyer said. "The fan base, Twitter and things like that, I took a beating for a while, but we weathered that storm. It's behind us. It's a lot of fun to interact with those fans, whether it's good or bad. It's all positive interaction as far as I'm concerned in talking about our sport."
Bowyer's late-race spin here last season proved advantageous to then-teammate Martin Truex Jr., who took one of the final Chase spots away from Ryan Newman, who stood the best chance of winning if not for the late caution period. Though NASCAR officials said there was not conclusive evidence of an intentional spin, review of radio communications among the Michael Waltrip Racing teams later revealed a manipulation of the race results.
NASCAR acted swiftly two days after last September's race, placing hefty points and monetary penalties on all three MWR teams and replacing Truex in the championship field with Newman. One week later, as more radio communication came to light, NASCAR expanded the Chase field, placing Jeff Gordon -- the other driver most affected by the altered results -- in as the 13th championship-eligible driver.
Bowyer, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series runner-up, went on to finish seventh in last season's standings, but the penalties had far-reaching impact on the Michael Waltrip-owned team. NAPA Auto Parts ended its long-running sponsorship in the wake of the scandal, forcing Waltrip to make his third team a part-time Sprint Cup entry and hastening the departure of Truex, who landed with Furniture Row Racing for 2014.
In the fallout, MWR has struggled this season. Brian Vickers possesses the team's only top-five finish and ranks 12th in Sprint Cup points. Bowyer currently ranks 16th in the standings, but has reason for optimism in Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 (7 p.m. ET, FOX) at the .75-mile track where he's won twice in his big-league career.
"You keep knocking on the door, you're going to bust it open and we’ll get our win -- I really do believe that we're capable of doing that," Bowyer said. "Our organization -- our cars are running fast and Brian (Pattie, crew chief) is doing a good job of bringing fast cars to the race track, and our model has always been consistency, and it's strange when you're not a part of that consistency right now. Everybody sees that in this sport. You'll get that shaken off and get things smoothed out and we'll get our win."
The most recent, but of far less magnitude, controversy in Bowyer's life was the result of a late-race restart two weeks ago at Darlington Raceway. Bowyer bumped Kurt Busch into a spin late in the Bojangles' Southern 500, turning his No. 41 into the inside wall and ruining his chances at a top-10 effort.
Bowyer said Friday the contact was unintentional and he had reached out to apologize, but received no reply from Busch.
"Obviously you reach out to somebody in that circumstance, but you understand the frustration and you put yourself in those shoes -- you probably wouldn't reply back either," Bowyer said. "It ain't worth a whole lot."