If positive energy and the right mindset alone were enough to land Clint Bowyer in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, then the Stewart-Haas Racing driver would be leading the championship charge.
The good vibes will be helpful, however, as Bowyer has three regular-season races remaining to hold on to a playoff position. His positive mindset was on full display Friday following opening practice at Bristol Motor Speedway, where the series races Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He was playfully trading barbs with reporters, pointing to nostalgic posters on the wall and full of the kind of enthusiasm he will need as the regular season closes out.
Bowyer, who was ranked as high as ninth place in the season standings following an early May race in his native Kansas, has been plagued by both bad luck and inconsistency in the weeks since.
He’s had only one top 10 in the last nine races and is coming off a 37th-place finish at Michigan in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
However, and that’s however with a capital H, despite the tough summer months, Bowyer is ranked 16th in the standings — six points up on 17th-place Daniel Suarez and 12 points up on 18th-place Jimmie Johnson. He trails 15th-place Ryan Newman by 10.
The top 16 in the driver standings following the Sept. 8 regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will advance to the 10-race playoffs that begin Sept. 15 at Las Vegas.
“Every time I get that feeling, ‘You’re in a good place, just ride right here,’ something happens,” Bowyer said. “A flat tire in Watkins (Glen) leading up to last weekend. Things were going good and we were gonna put probably a 30-pad on what we needed to. I mean, literally just trying to get to the end of the thing and survive, and couldn’t. So snake-bit, I’m definitely feeling that.’’
If a fond feeling for a venue can make even a subtle difference, then Bowyer should feel good about his chances at Bristol. He has never won a Cup race on the famous half-mile high-banks, but was runner-up in 2017. He led 120 laps and finished sixth in this night race last year and led 24 laps and finished seventh in the Bristol spring race earlier this season.
Beyond his performance at Bristol — 14 top 10s and seven top-five finishes in 27 starts — Bowyer just likes the facility and the atmosphere.
“Anybody that hates this place shouldn’t be in racing because this is the mecca of all race tracks,’’ Bowyer said. “This is the granddaddy of them all. There’s no question.
“A fan, if they want to be a fan of this sport, they need to learn short-track racing and they need to learn of Bristol Motor Speedway,’’ Bowyer continued. “There’s not a fan, a family member, a friend, anybody that I know that I wouldn’t point in the direction of Bristol Motor Speedway, so as a racer on the track, it’s no different.’’
And for the challenges of what is unfailingly a busy, action-packed night of racing, Bowyer says that’s exactly the draw for him. Bristol provides the sort of “old-school, hard-knocks” competition that attracted him to stock car racing.
“Just the unknown, being able to go for it, being able to not worry about an aero push or horsepower deficit or whatever the case may be — get ahold of the steering wheel, get ahold of the gas pedal and make something happen and this is a track where you can do that.”