It was a glorious return to form for Clint Bowyer in 2018. After five win less seasons, Bowyer broke through in a big way and became a consistent threat for victories throughout the entire 2019 season.
Bowyer started off his second season with Stewart-Haas Racing by avoiding all six crashes that broke out in the Daytona 500. Bowyer didn’t come away with a super stellar finish, as he came home 15th after suffering from dropping a cylinder, but he did come away unscathed.
The Kansas native would record his first top-five of the year in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Bowyer qualified ninth in the race and was in the mix all day long. Although, he never led a lap during the event, Bowyer came home with an impressive third-place finish.
After a down week in Las Vegas, which resulted in an 18th-place finish, Bowyer rebounded for decent finishes of sixth and 11th in Phoneix and Fontana.
The STP 500 in Martinsville was delayed by a day due to a wild snow storm, but when the action got under way on Monday, Bowyer surged. Coming from the ninth starting position, Bowyer would work his way to fifth by the end of Stage 1. At the end of Stage 2, Bowyer had worked to second and he was stalking the leader, Ryan Blaney.
In stage 3, Bowyer took the point and he wouldn’t look back. The No. 14 paced the field for 215 of the final 216 laps and Bowyer captured his first victory since the 2012 season. An elated Bowyer had a wild victory celebration and nearly crashed his car.
“We learned last year,” said Bowyer. “Obviously, Harvick came on strong at the end of last year, but it was a learning year for our team and the 14 bunch. It was just time.”
To Bowyer, running up front all day, just felt correct.
“For whatever reason, it felt right driving up here,” said Bowyer. “Such a cool place, to be able to drive up through the countryside on a two-lane road and think about the race.”
Bowyer would secure three more top-10 finishes at Texas, Bristol and Richmond before finally suffering his first DNF of the season at Talladega – the 10th stop on the schedule.
Bowyer started eighth and played it cool for the majority of the race. But when it was go time, Bowyer was swept up in a huge 14-car melee at lap 166. Bowyer would finish 31st. This finish wouldn’t be indicative of how the rest of Bowyer’s season would go.
The No. 14 car would finish second in Dover, and four races later Bowyer found himself in victory lane again – this time in a rain-shortened FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.
“The rain came just in enough time. I was trying to hold [Kevin Harvick] off,” Bowyer said. “I was cutting him off and taking his line away pretty bad. If it wasn’t for a win you wouldn’t be doing that. He was so much faster than me in (Turns) 1 and 2. I got down in 3 and just had to take his line because that bear was coming.”
With his Playoff berth easily secured, Bowyer finally began to run into trouble as he would suffer three more crashes in the final nine regular season races.
In the opening race of the Round of 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bowyer would stumble to a 23rd place finish. However, he would rebound nicely with finishes of 10th and third at Richmond and the Roval. Bowyer was onto the round of 12.
Bowyer would crash late in the opening race of the Round of 12 at Dover but finishes of second and 13th at Talladega and Kansas would move him on to the round of 8. However, Bowyer’s playoff magic would run out in this round as he recorded finishes of 21st (at Martinsville), 26th (at Texas) and 35th (at Phoenix).
Bowyer would close the season out with an eighth-place effort at Homestead.
With the rough finishes in the Round of 8, Bowyer slipped to 12th in the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, but after a two-win, nine top-five and 16 top-10 finishes campaign. Bowyer has plenty of reason to be happy.
Going into 2019, everything will remain intact for Bowyer, who turns 40 in May, and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team. Mike Bugarewicz will remain atop the pit box, and the majority of the sponsors appear to be returning from 2018.
The only changes for the team are the body swap from the Ford Fusion to the Ford Mustang, which should slow the team early in 2019, and the departure of Kurt Busch from the No. 41 and addition of Daniel Suarez as a new teammate.
Suarez should perform well for the team, but any bit of chemistry change could affect the entire organization which was so strong a season ago.
What do I expect from Bowyer this upcoming season? I expect at least one win, and I believe he should at least make it to the Round of 12. However, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Bowyer break through with a potential championship season, either. The driver has shown in the past that when he gets in a groove, he can be quite unstoppable.