KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Clint Bowyer rolled into Kansas Speedway on Friday with the comfort of knowing he’ll be with Stewart-Haas Racing next season and the uncertainty of whether he’ll be in the playoffs next week.
The Kansan reached a contract extension with SHR to remain in the No. 14 Ford regardless of what happens Sunday, when Bowyer faces postseason elimination. He sits 11th in the 12-driver field with the bottom four drivers eliminated after the race at Kansas Speedway.
“Unfortunately the nature of the business, all that stuff falls on top of managing (the playoffs), but you just have to have good people around you,” said Bowyer, who has been with SHR for three of his 15 seasons in NASCAR’s top series. “My brother and everybody did a good job of getting that handled, doing it in a manner that I don’t have to worry about it.”
Bowyer was hired to replace team co-owner Tony Stewart following his retirement after the 2016 season. That deal was done more than a year ahead of time, a rarity then and something that has become nearly nonexistent in an era in which contracts are often signed at the last minute.
“Listen, it’s always a good thing,” Bowyer said. “I don’t feel like I was racing for my career anyway. I race because I love to do it. I love to come back here and everything else. There’s a lot of pride to be part of a sport like this, something you’ve been doing it since you were a little boy.
“Doing it another year? Yes, that’s great and according to plan,” Bowyer said. “But right now the plan is all about trying to stay alive in these playoffs and winning a championship.”
Kyle Larson won at Dover and Ryan Blaney won last week’s rain-delayed race at Talladega, locking them into the eight-driver semifinal round that begins next week at Martinsville. But the pressure is on the remaining 10 drivers to lock up their spot at an unpredictable mile-and-a-half track.
Joey Logano is the last driver above the points cutoff line, while Alex Bowman is 18 points adrift to lead three Hendrick Motorsports cars in danger of elimination. The fourth car that could be cut on points? Bowyer, who is 24 points behind heading into Sunday.
And despite Kansas being his home track, it hasn’t always been kind to him.
The native of Emporia, who cut his teeth on the dirt track at nearby Lakeside Speedway, started second and finished fifth in the spring race for his best showing in six years. He has two other top-five finishes, but many more times he has finished somewhere in the middle of the pack.
If he wasn’t caught up in an accident or dropped out with engine trouble.
“The weird thing is I can come here and be just spot-on and have a really easy weekend and be successful,” he said, “and other weekends I feel like a fish out of water the whole weekend.”
Bowyer, who has twice qualified for the playoffs with SHR, made his 500th career start last weekend. And while Stewart called him “exactly who I wanted to drive my No. 14 car,” the reality is the one-year extension only puts Bowyer’s future at bay for the next 12 months.
That’s fine with him, too.
The 40-year-old Bowyer said the business has changed considerably just in the four years since his last deal. Finding sponsors is more difficult, NASCAR just finalized its purchase of International Speedway Corp. earlier Friday in a move that could have lasting effects on the sport, and an entirely new car — known as the Next Gen car — is set to debut at the 2021 Daytona 500.
It’s also becoming harder for drivers to find rides.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was stunned to learn recently that he would be replaced by Chris Buescher at Roush Fenway Racing next season. Stenhouse in turn signed a multiyear contract Wednesday to drive the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty, essentially completing a seat-swap among the drivers.
Daniel Suarez is trying to complete a deal for a second season with Stewart-Haas Racing, and Chip Ganassi has said he’s close to extending Kurt Busch, further limiting the options.
All of which makes Bowyer happy to have next season wrapped up with plenty of time to spare.
“Again, if I didn’t feel like I could compete and win races and be successful on the track,” Bowyer said, “then no, it’s too much work and you know, asking so much out of so many people. So if I didn’t feel like I could do this anymore, I damn sure wouldn’t do it anymore.”
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