CONCORD, N.C. — Ryan Newman had the perfect tension-breaker for his first meeting with Clint Bowyer since their Saturday night All-Star altercation.
“C’mon, buddy,” Newman called out, with an exaggerated pat of the autograph table at Concord’s Bass Pro Shops store. Bowyer sidled up to his rival with a coy grin, smiled for a picture and started signing.
— Zack Albert (@zack_albert) May 23, 2019
Five days after Bowyer and Newman faced off after the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, the two drivers were elbow to elbow instead of toe to toe in a deliciously timed meet-and-greet session with fans Thursday afternoon near Charlotte Motor Speedway. Two tables were initially set far apart before their arrival, but the two opted for a cozier setup for the hourlong session, which drew a sizable crowd to the Concord Mills location.
“There’s one thing that I can always promise you about something like that, and it is unfortunate. You hate having things like that happen, but attendance — that’s probably the best attended autograph at Bass Pro Shops that I’ve had in a long, long time,” Bowyer said after qualifying eighth for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “Obviously I don’t want to do that every weekend to have people show up, but at the end of the day, we all love this sport, we all are passionate about this sport, and every now and then, that passion shows a little more, a little brighter than other times.”
A late-race collision in the final stage of the All-Star event prompted further contact between the two drivers on the cool-down lap Saturday night. The tension boiled over with Bowyer’s repeated post-race blows through Newman’s driver’s window, then an aggravated exchange of words on pit road afterward.
Thursday, the two were cordial but not overly chummy, and the setting teetered toward awkward without being tense. Both indicated they’d had a discussion beforehand, one that may have defused some of the edge.
“It was fine. I mean, as good as two drivers are after a situation like that,” Newman said after qualifying 18th for Sunday’s 600. “I don’t know that you say that’s good, but it was good we got a chance to talk. We were there for the fans, not for each other.”
Bowyer agreed. “Yeah, we did (talk) a little. It was good to have a conversation about it. At the end of the day, there was a lot of things that escalated very fast, and obviously gets out of hand.”
Still, Newman couldn’t resist getting in a good-natured barb, echoing former team owner Tony Stewart’s remarks that Bowyer should have removed his helmet before fisticuffs in a nod to driver etiquette.
“No, he didn’t have a helmet on,” Newman said of Bowyer’s arrival at the autograph session. “I think there was a point where he thought he might need one, but we were good.”
Both drivers indicated that they were ready to move beyond the All-Star incident, but those attending Thursday’s gathering wouldn’t let them completely forget. Paul Linker of Charlotte was one of the last fans to go through the autograph line. Lacking a die-cast car or other memorabilia for the pair to sign, Linker visited a nearby Walmart and emerged with the best item he could imagine: boxing gloves.
Bowyer and Newman were good sports, signing both the left and right glove with nary a hook or jab.
“Hopefully, it’s behind us,” Bowyer said. “We both have a little better understanding about how it escalated into that, and you’ve just got to get stuff like that behind you.”
Said Newman: “It was good to kind of clear the air. It is what it is. It’s the past. It’s just something you always remember. You learn about somebody in a situation like that.”