We’re back to road course racing this weekend at the Watkins Glen International. It’s the second road course race of the year and final one of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season. But, for one driver, he’s actually looking forward to Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). See, while most drivers can worry themselves for this difficult road course, especially with the playoffs on the line, Clint Bowyer is thrilled for the opportunity at hand.
See, Bowyer has struggled as of late. His last top five came eight races ago in the June Pocono race. He has just two top 10 finishes since the Coca-Cola 600. That has dropped him to tie for the 16th and final playoff spot (+12) with Ryan Newman with only five races remaining to set the field overall.
So, why is Bowyer excited to go to a wildcard race then?
Well, who has the best average finish in the last six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series road course races?
It’s Bowyer of all people.
The former body shop employee and dirt track racer from Emporia, Kansas, who hadn’t seen much of any road course until he joined the NASCAR ranks, is at the top of the list.
In his 28 career starts on road courses at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and the “roval” at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Bowyer has earned a victory, 11 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s.
“Not in a million years would I have imagined this success,” said Bowyer, who has a theory on why he and all other Cup Series drivers have improved their road-course racing skills over the last several years.
“I think a big part of it is engineering,” he said. “They came into this sport – our engineers were able to get our cars underneath us way better than we could before. Those ringers would go test time and time again all over the place, all sorts of different racetracks, in preparation for these one or two races. And, when we’d get there, our focus is on those mile-and-a-half tracks that make up the biggest part of the season. That’s a big difference. When we get here and we’re on the same playing field as they are, I feel like I’m proud to say the Cup regulars are holding their own.”
Some of Bowyer’s best road-course work has come since joining SHR in 2017. He climbed in the No. 14 driver’s seat when three-time champion Tony Stewart retired from NASCAR competition. In the six road-course races since joining SHR, Bowyer owns an average finish of 5.8 – the best of any driver who has competed in each of those races. Bowyer owns top-five finishes in four of the six road-course races since 2017 and hasn’t finished outside the top-11. That 5.8 average finish is even more impressive when considering his teammate Kevin Harvick is next best with an average finish of 7.5 in those races.
“That’s pretty cool and shows the quality of Fords the folks at SHR have been building for us,” Bowyer said. “When we go to road courses, we expect to be at the top of the chart each time.”
All this Bowyer trivia comes into play this weekend when the Cup Series races at Watkins Glen in Sunday’s GoBowling at the Glen in the second of three road courses on the 2019 schedule. With those numbers, Bowyer will obviously be a driver to watch when the green flag drops Sunday afternoon.
Bowyer warns there’s very little comparison between the high speeds of the Watkins Glen track and Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where Bowyer finished 11th on June 23. Watkins Glen is all about rhythm and timing that lead to its higher speeds.
“There is such a sensation of speed at Watkins Glen,” Bowyer said. “It is a wild racetrack and you have to be on your toes. If you slip up the least little bit, you are not only going to crash, you are going to crash hard. I think of it like this – Sonoma is like a short track and Watkins Glen is like a superfast, 1.5-mile track. That’s the speed difference.”
Bowyer has lots of motivation this weekend as he arrives in Upstate New York 15th in the NASCAR standings. With only four races remaining in the regular season and only 16 spots available, Bowyer leads the 17th-place driver by 12 points and trails the 10th-place driver by 82 points.
He arrives at Watkins Glen after finishing 11th last weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, where he started 13th and ran in the top-10 most of the day before restarting 20th in overtime and driving to 11th.
Bowyer will have a few extra family and fans in the grandstands this weekend at Watkins Glen. Bowyer’s wife Lorra is a native of Pen Yann, New York – a town of 5,000 people about 25 miles north of the track. Bowyer has spent considerable time in the area over the years.
“I love this place,” he said. “There are so many lakes and the area is so beautiful. Not sure I want to spend winters here but, when we visit, we have a good time.”