A few days removed from an excursion to the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Festival in South Dakota, Clint Bowyer showed up at Michigan International Speedway invigorated and ready to repeat his work at the fast two-miler this summer – ready to win again.
He arrives for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (2:30 ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) joining six-time race winners Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and four-time winner Martin Truex Jr. as the only competitors with multiple Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins this season.
Bowyer, 39, collected his second trophy at Michigan in the rain-shortened race this past June – the win a product of his fast No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and also some quick strategic thinking by his crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. Bowyer also won at Martinsville Speedway in March – his first win since October 2012 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In the last six months especially, Bowyer has revitalized his career and established a strong presence in the 2018 Cup championship race with his wins. It is reminiscent of that 2012 title-contending season (he finished runner-up to Brad Keselowski) and marks the third time in his career he’s hoisted more than one trophy in a season.
With only four races remaining to set the 16-driver playoff field and make a run at the title, Bowyer is currently fourth in the rankings. But he is also mindful that that his team must raise its game to be a part of that elite conversation.
What will it take? More wins, he explained. It’s simple.
“You have to elevate your game and rise to their capabilities and expectations,” Bowyer told the media Friday morning. “Those guys, not only do they have the wins, they are dominant cars that have led a lot of laps when they get those wins and all the stage points and all that stuff. You have to be able to do that more consistently.
“On our team, that is what we have to do. We have touched on that and made some mistakes and know we have to get those mistakes behind us to capitalize on every possible situation. Every stage. Every lap. That is what we have to do better. We have to smooth out the highs and lows. You have to stay on top of the mountain. You can’t fall off the damn mountain. That’s what it boils down to.”
With the playoff push really starting to be felt, Bowyer’s wins give his team the opportunity to begin sizing up the 10 tracks and races that will ultimately decide the championship. A fast, big track, Michigan is a reasonable reference point for some of the other venues the series visits – both to close out the regular season and also in the playoffs.
“We were obviously really fast here last time and finished 1-2-3 with our Stewart-Haas camp,’’ Bowyer allowed. “Kevin [Harvick] was the class of the field and I think we ran third for most of the race. We were right there. All of our cars were really, really fast. That is the last race. That is so last week. You think about racing and whoever won last week, it doesn’t mean anything. Everybody gets better each week.
“You don’t go back after a win and sit on your hands and not do anything and talk about how good you were. You go to work on trying to get better. Doesn’t matter if you dominated the race and destroyed the field, you go back and go to work on getting better.
“That being said, everybody has had time to get better here and I know they will. I also know we have, too. It is always exciting to go to any race track for the second time, especially when you have had some success to see how you will stack up when you unload again.”
Bowyer’s performance in June at Michigan was certainly a welcome deviation from his recent results here. Before that win, he hadn’t had a top-20 since 2015 – a 10th-place that was the cap to a nine-race top-10 streak.
His Stewart-Haas team, however, has been the class of the field more often than not. They swept the podium at Michigan in June – a first for the organization. It’s been a similar showing in recent weeks.
The team had all four cars among the top eight at Sonoma Raceway. It had two in the top five at Chicago, three in the top eight at Kentucky. It had three among the top-10 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and three in the top 11 at both Pocono and last week at Watkins Glen.
That momentum and keeping his eye on the 2018 prize is what Bowyer insists is most vital at the moment.
This week, his Ford team helped roll out the new Mustang that will compete in 2019. And as impressed as he is with the prospects, Bowyer would sure like to hoist a trophy driving this season’s Ford Fusion.
“I am looking forward to next year with the Mustang but I am looking forward to capitalizing on the program we have with the Fusion this year and getting the most out of that,’’ he explained. “Slowly but surely here the window is opening.
“The playoffs are fixin’ to start and it is time to unleash the beast.”