Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola could be two quiet drivers to watch this weekend on the Lady in Black. No one is talking about them as certainly the favorites for Sunday’s Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN) have to come from Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick or Chase Elliott. But, don’t sleep on Bowyer or Almirola stealing some top 10’s.
I mean, part of them being overlooked is that Bowyer has never finished in the top five in 15 career Darlington Raceway starts. He’s had just two top 10’s in those 15 as well. But, to where I’m encouraged by him is, one of those two top 10’s came back on May 17 when he brought his No. 14 Ford home sixth. While his May 20 result on the 1.366-mile South Carolina oval was 17th, his pace wasn’t indicative of that.
Bowyer, actually swept both stages and looked good that race before some troubles got him out. I like him as a sleeper this weekend because of that.
“I’m excited about the first three races in the playoffs,” Bowyer said. “I’m excited about Darlington. We ran real well there in Darlington 2. We won a couple of stages. Again, it was the same old Darlington for me. We ran well, doing the things we need to do. We pit, the caution comes out and boom. Next thing you know you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole and put it in a hole we shouldn’t have been in and we hit the wall and the rest is history. It’s just that fast it can get away from you.”
Bowyer, said that if they can capitalize on stage points, they can advance their ways through these rounds and contend for a championship. He really feels like the pace and speed is in his car this year. They just can’t shoot themselves in the foot.
“You’re in the playoffs for one reason,” Bowyer continued. “That’s to compete for a championship. The only way to do that is go through these rounds. We don’t have the points. We’ve got to earn stage points. We’ve got to minimize mistakes. That’s how you go through rounds and compete for a championship. The capability is there. Just gotta clean up the mistakes.
“Going into this thing, I don’t have a lot of playoff points. We’ve got to get these stage points established right off the bat. We’re starting up front, relatively up front. I mean with the way I started all summer long, a ninth place start is way up front. I’m super pumped about a top 10 starting spot.
“We have a new rabbit to chase. That old thing gets wore out as you’re going through those summer months. We’ve got a new one in front of the hood and I’m going to chase it.
“I’ve came into the playoffs before and won New Hampshire and rode that off into a second place finish. It’s real. Look at Tony Stewart. His last championship they sucked all year. All the sudden boom, here they are. They found the right wave and rode that damn thing all the way to the sunset and there they were at Homestead competing for a championship. It can happen. It can happen with any race team. How it’s going to happen for me, it’s not making mistakes.”
Exact same for his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate of Almirola. He is 0-for-10 in terms of top five finishes at Darlington himself. But, he had himself a career week back in May with being 12th on May 17 and seventh, a career best at that, on May 20.
Almirola, has 11 top 10 finishes in his last 15 races on the season too. So, while they may not win, they can steal top 10’s this weekend and make a strong case for both advancing out of the Round of 12 too.
Almirola was the driver his peers chose as the under the radar sleeper to watch this postseason too.