Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Bowyer being Bowyer: Tales from a rollicking first year with FOX Sports

Clint Bowyer is driving around his property on a Tuesday afternoon in his tractor, just like any other day. But this time, he’s doing it while on Zoom.

Last fall, Bowyer had a decision to make that would potentially change his role in the NASCAR industry: Continue driving for Stewart-Haas Racing or join the FOX Sports coverage team for the NASCAR Cup Series races.

On his own terms, Bowyer elected to step out of the No. 14 Ford Mustang, allowing Xfinity Series hotshot Chase Briscoe to fill the seat. That ended his 15-year full-time Cup career, in which he accumulated 10 victories, 82 top fives and 226 top-10 finishes in 541 starts. His best finish in the points standings came in 2012, finishing runner-up to champion Brad Keselowski.

Admittedly so from early on in his career, Bowyer never envisioned being a television analyst. However, in 2015, he did his first telecast with FOX Sports, broadcasting an Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway, the same year FOX went to its current format of rotating Cup Series drivers in the booth.

Last year, during the sport’s shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, FOX brought Bowyer into its Charlotte studios to help Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy broadcast the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. Then all parties hit the ground running.

“There was a moment during iRacing last year – an ‘a-ha’ moment – and it was when Clint was in the simulator in the studio and he was iRacing while Jeff and I were describing it,” Joy, the network’s longtime play-by-play announcer, recalls. “He had some big problem, and I go, ‘Clint, what happened?’ And he says, ‘I don’t know, my give a damn broke.’ That was the a-ha moment when I think everybody at FOX – Jeff and me included – took a step back and said, ‘Wow, we could really have some fun with this.'”

RELATED: Bowyer-Gordon banter spices up iRacing

From there, Joy explained, Fox executives — including Executive Producer, Vice President/Head of Production and Operations Brad Zager — led the charge in getting Bowyer on their broadcast team.

But still, he wasn’t sure that his openness would translate well to the TV world.

“It just kind of happened,” Bowyer told NASCAR.com on joining the FOX team. “I never really thought about it. I knew I probably had a little more personality than some of the other drivers. That was my selling point not necessarily to TV, but to a fan or anything else. Everybody knows who they are and how they fit in, and I knew that was my gig. But when it came to TV, I didn’t know.”

Back in February, Gordon asked Joy if the trio should broadcast a practice race before Speedweeks, given Bowyer’s newness to the booth. Joy objected, believing spontaneity would take over and the best dialogue would come out on air.

Bowyer bought into that idea.

“What I want from Clint is emotion, reaction and with it all being so new, he explains things really well,” Joy assured. “He explains them with a passion he has for the sport, and because he’s new to this side of it, I think it helps bring the viewer along.

“Most of the analysts that I’ve worked with don’t care for rehearsal and some very famous ones I’ve worked with would never say the same thing on the air that they would say in rehearsal. So why leave the best part of your broadcast so only the producer and director hear it?”

Now, 16 races into his new role, Bowyer is relishing the opportunity FOX has granted him in the booth. It is also allowing both Gordon and Joy to bring out their personalities more, transitioning from a two-man booth last season after having a three-man team for its first 19 years as a NASCAR broadcast partner, primarily with Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip.

Though knowing there are challenges in both a two- and three-man booth, Joy knew the broadcast was missing a little something in 2020.

“Jeff and I are really good explainers, but we’re better explainers than we are entertainers,” he said. “I think that’s where FOX missed some of what Darrell Waltrip brought to the table and they found that in Clint.”

Building chemistry

Bowyer’s colleagues say they have enjoyed working with him, believing that having a driver who recently competed full-time is a breath of fresh air. It was the same transition that Gordon made five years ago.

“It’s actually a joy because he brings a lot of energy to the telecasts,” said Pam Miller, FOX Sports’ lead producer. “He doesn’t miss anything that’s happening on the track. I learned that really quickly working with him in Xfinity.

“[You] can’t trade that knowledge. [He’s] fresh off the track and understands what the trends are in the garage. They understand what the tracks have done the last time they drove them, which is usually the next time they’re in the booth. I think it makes the rest of the group better because they bring a different perspective once they come right from the driver’s seat to the booth.”

During the week, FOX typically has its production meetings on Tuesday to review the most recent race weekend, but more importantly, they are looking ahead at what is to come. Everyone from analysts to pit reporters are on the weekly Zoom call to debrief — even checking in from a tractor, as Bowyer has been known to do.

Those types of meetings can be fun when you have a high-strung personality as Bowyer does.

“It’s a lot like a broadcast for Clint,” Joy said of the production meetings. “Sometimes, when he wants to make a point, he’s very detailed and matter of fact and sometimes it’s, ‘Hey, hey, whoa, whoa, hold on a minute.'”

Christian Petersen | Getty Images
Christian Petersen | Getty Images

Adam Alexander, analyst for the Xfinity Series and NASCAR Race Hub, helped prepare Bowyer for his opportunity. Dating back to the first race Bowyer broadcasted, the two formed a chemistry. It helped Alexander during other broadcasts when a number of drivers rotated through the booth during FOX’s portion of the Xfinity schedule.

But similar to Joy, Alexander sat back and let Bowyer be himself. Ultimately, FOX Sports loved that.

“The role I played, if any, was just letting Clint be Clint,” Alexander said, “and trying to infuse energy his way to make him feel more comfortable to be himself. I think personalities like Clint rarely come along in any sport as a broadcaster and he’s been a real asset to NASCAR and certainly to us at FOX.”

Bowyer stated he knew coming into the 2021 season with FOX that the chemistry among Gordon, Joy and himself would grow. He was more worried about adapting to the TV side now that he was becoming a weekly fixture.

He also knew that having Gordon — someone he battled fiercely on the race track, highlighted by an infamous scuffle at Phoenix Raceway in 2012 – alongside would be calming.

“I knew going into it that Jeff and I would have good camaraderie and good conversation, good banter and obviously strong opinions on any given subject,” Bowyer said. “I knew that would be good. I really did. The bosses didn’t know that. They were like, ‘Man, I know you guys have had some differences in the past,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m telling you, that’s going to be the smallest part of the equation that we have.’ Catching me up, learning the ins and outs of the TV side of this sport was where I needed help the most.”

Since Daytona in February, Bowyer has learned more about TV than he could have imagined. Along the way, he and FOX come up with different and unique ideas for pre-race skits, whether it be going to a dirt track with Gordon to promote the inaugural Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race or going Days of Thunder style and tearing up two rental cars on the Daytona road course.

Quite simply, Bowyer wanted those ideas – and other nuances – to stand out from previous years.

“I just thought with me coming on, I’ve watched this time and time again and I wanted it to be different,” he said. “I think people expected me to bring different things. It’s all about what people like and bringing attention to our sport that people love, that’s why we all do it.”

Joy says Bowyer has done a wonderful job of adapting as a broadcaster, and also believes he stands out from other analyst partners he’s worked with in the past.

“He brings a different view of racing, a different approach to racing and when he breaks down how he looked at a situation or how he looked at a problem and solved it, it’s very different from what Jeff might have done or what [Darrell Waltrip] might have done back in the day,” Joy said. “That gives us interesting places to go in the telecast and interesting things to talk about.”

Like any new job, broadcasting came with its fair share of challenges. Before the season began, Bowyer tapped into Gordon’s experience about what to expect, making sure his head was right.

When Gordon told Bowyer, “To not empty your bucket” was among his biggest challenges, Bowyer was confused.

“What the hell does that mean?” Bowyer recalled saying. “He goes, ‘Let me explain it to you and I think you’ll experience it and understand more.’ What he meant by that is, you start at the Daytona 500. We all have our sayings and opinions on things about what we see and visualize different things. It’s hard not to drain and completely empty the bucket on all of those things right off the bat and not have anything for the next lap or the next stage, next race. Keeping it fresh, keeping it fun but also taking care of business is a tricky balance. Having good camaraderie up there, good teammates by your side helps a lot.”

Bowyer admits the broadcast team has thick skin. The trio gets along well together, and treats the booth as if they’re watching a race at a bar or talking about it together at a coffee shop.

But there’s nothing Bowyer enjoys more than taking small jabs at Gordon, knowing it won’t bother him.

“I know if I shoot fire at Jeff, I want it back,” Bowyer said. “I think that banter is good. If he has an opinion on something, thinks a guy didn’t wreck somebody, I’m going to say, ‘You’re out of your damn mind. Do you need glasses? Did you miss that one? How do you have that opinion?’ I think that bench racing, coffee shop conversation is so important.

“That’s the way I wanted it and I hope it’s received well because I do feel like it’s a conversation up there. It’s bench racing.”

A season of transition

Bowyer has had fun over the course of the last four months, but he’s also been able to pick up on what his strengths and weaknesses are as a broadcaster.

“I know myself and I know a little bit of Clint is fun, a little too much of Clint can be too much,” he said.”I get it. So I try to keep that in check. Ultimately they just let me be me and hopefully that’s what people are looking for and expect out of me.”

There’s only one downside to being so close to the action. Bowyer says he believes, in some cases, he would still be able to get the job done on the race track. Known to be a respectable road course racer, he pointed to the rain race at Circuit of The Americas as a place where he could make a difference. The last time he raced in wet conditions, he fared well, finishing 10th last year on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, despite having no power steering.

But in the long run, Bowyer says no matter the position he’s in, being part of the sport is what counts.

“I don’t care where I’m at right now,” Bowyer noted. “I love NASCAR. I love the sport. I love the fans and I want to make a difference. If that was in the car, that’s what I wanted to do. If that’s in the broadcast booth, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to leave a race track knowing I possibly made a difference in the outcome of something. When you do that, you’re already happy.”

Seeing the performance of Stewart-Haas Racing this year, with three of its cars mired below 25th in points, has made it easier and more fulfilling to be a broadcaster as well.

“Looking over my shoulder and seeing how bad those Stewart-Haas cars are running this year, that’s certainly helped. I don’t mean that negatively, I’m just telling the truth,” Bowyer says. “I would have been miserable if I was in that car this year. I was already not running the way I wanted to, and we made the playoffs and had a little bit of fun. But running for 25th every week, I would have been completely miserable.

“The only thing that scares me now is, we’re done here [next week] and you’ve got a second half of the season and I honestly don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve got to figure it out because I’ve never had time off. I think that sounds fun but it’s going to be short-lived and I’m going to be looking for something to do and something I can make a difference in again.”