WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Clint Bowyer was all smiles and photo-ready surrounded by fans as he walked through the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage at Watkins Glen International on Saturday morning.
Bowyer’s is one of the sport’s most popular drivers because of his famously outgoing personality, but also because so many truly believe he should be a postseason player in the No. 14 Five Star Urgent Care Ford once driven by his team owner, the retired three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart.
With five races remaining before the 16-driver playoff field is set, Bowyer is ranked 17th in the playoff standings, 17 points behind 16th-place Matt Kenseth. Of course, a win and Bowyer’s in.
And the 2.45-mile historic Watkins Glen road course just may be his postseason ticket.
“End of the day, I just want to win,” Bowyer said, smiling and signing autographs as he walked through the Watkins Glen garage on Saturday.
“I want to win for myself, it’s been a long time. I want to win for this team. It’s capable of winning and we’ve gotten close several times this year. It’s time.
“We’ve got to put it all together and seal the deal. That takes care of a lot problems.”
Bowyer, 38, has three runner-up showings this year, including the other Cup Series road course race at Sonoma Raceway back in June, a track where he has nine top-10 finishes in 12 starts.
And Bowyer answered his near-miss at Sonoma this summer with another runner-up finish the next week on the Daytona International Speedway high banks.
His record on the seven-turn Watkins Glen course includes only four top-10 finishes and a single lap led. But he was a consistent top-10 car in two practice sessions here on Saturday. Qualifying is scheduled for Sunday afternoon — three hours before the start of the race.
“I enjoy them,” Bowyer said of the road course stops on the schedule. “But I’m not going to lie, I’m more comfortable at Sonoma than I am here.
“This is just a fast, fast race track and you’re tip-toeing around it pretty good. You’ve just got to respect this place. You can’t hustle the car as much, especially since the re-pave, it’s slick. You can’t get too aggressive, it’ll bite you every time.”
But there’s a lot on the line this week and Bowyer’s well aware how high the stakes have become as the Sept. 9 Richmond regular season finale looms to set the playoff lineup.
Bowyer was fourth fastest in final practice for Sunday’s I Love New York 355 at The Glen. In addition to Kenseth, his closest competition for qualifying for the playoffs includes non-winners Jamie McMurray and Chase Elliott, who are 38 and 39 points up on Bowyer, respectively.
“This is a good opportunity for me and a lot of people,” Bowyer said. “But I really look at Bristol (Aug. 19), we ran second there and I think we can do better than that. And you know Richmond, I think to seal the deal, you can’t do better than that.
“We’ve gotten close. We can win. I guarantee you, we can win.”