Bowyer likes rid­ing with Ste­wart-Haas

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - GE­ORGE DIAZ ON MO­TOR RAC­ING sports@la­times.com

Clint Bowyer is in his happy place.

He looks around and sees a rac­ing family and not a vagabond clus­ter of peo­ple who, de­spite the best in­ten­tions, could never make things work.

Bowyer did an ap­pren­tice­ship of sorts in 2016 at HS­cott Mo­tor­sports, a year­long pit stop as he waited for a far more com­pet­i­tive ride. He al­ready was signed to re­place Tony Ste­wart in 2017 at Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing, and the in­terim gig was good to keep him in the game.

But not in the game com­pet­i­tively, with a team that just doesn’t have the re­sources to chal­lenge NAS­CAR’s hand­ful of su­per teams. Pre­dictably, Bowyer fin­ished 27th in points.

His move to Ste­wart-Haas has re­united Bowyer with Ste­wart. They’ve been friends for a long while and share an affin­ity for short-track rac­ing, among other pur­suits.

Ste­wart usu­ally sits on the pit box when Bowyer races. He’s not play­ing fa­vorites among an elite stable that in­cludes Kevin Har­vick and Kurt Busch and a strug­gling tag-along in Dan­ica Patrick.

But it’s a nat­u­ral fit for Bowyer be­cause the No. 14 was Ste­wart’s ride. The change has been good for Ste­wart too as he tran­si­tions to team owner full time in 2017.

“It’s ev­ery­thing you were hop­ing for and dreamed it could be,” Bowyer said last week at a pro­mo­tional event in Day­tona Beach for the Coke Zero 400. “He’s good. It re­ally sur­prised me. Our re­la­tion­ship has al­ways been fun and light­hearted but when he stepped up and put me on that car that meant a lot to me.”

And Bowyer has re­cip­ro­cated, do­ing his thing as a 12-year Cup vet­eran. Although he has yet to win a race this sea­son, he has been strong and steady, cur­rently 10th in points, with two top­five fin­ishes and five top 10s.

Bowyer, 38, has never won a Cup ti­tle and has not won in a Cup car dat­ing to 2012, but he’s the quin­tes­sen­tial wheel­man, a guy you can al­ways count on to give you a com­pet­i­tive ride no mat­ter the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the track. He fin­ished 17th at Po­cono last week­end.

“I think that re­al­ity is there,” Bowyer said when asked if re­al­ity met ex­pec­ta­tions. “We’re run­ning ex­actly how we hoped we would run. We’ve had our chances and are go­ing to have more chances.”

There’s no sug­ar­coat­ing the down-in-the-dump­ster ride of 2016. There was only so much Bowyer could do, and it was never go­ing to be enough.

“The last year and a half has been mis­er­able,” he said dur­ing Speed­weeks in Day­tona. “That isn’t how I want my kid to re­mem­ber me. He’s 21⁄2 years old now and I want to be able for him to see me in vic­tory lane and for him to be in vic­tory lane, and when it’s all said and done you look over when you’re 50-some years old that there’s a pic­ture of your whole family in vic­tory lane. That’s what I race for.”

It’s an im­age that sticks with Bowyer ev­ery time he goes out for a ride with his com­pet­i­tive team.

‘Gen­er­a­tion Next’

Mom­mies and dad­dies, if you want to get your kids fix­ated on be­com­ing “Gen­er­a­tion Next” NAS­CAR fans, take them to a movie. Specif­i­cally, Pixar’s “Cars 3,” which opens Fri­day in the­aters na­tion­wide.

Bubba Wal­lace, Ryan Blaney, Chase El­liott and Daniel Suarez are among the voices be­hind the an­i­mated char­ac­ters. That is very new-school and in­clu­sive. Check out the Pixar bio for Wal­lace’s char­ac­ter:

“Next-gen stock car racer Bubba Wheel­house Jr. is a fast and tena­cious young racer who knows how to win. A cham­pion for di­ver­sity, Wheel­house be­lieves that all race cars de­serve a chance on the track.”

But there’s some­thing in it for the old-school types. Dar­rell Car­trip, a vet­eran Pis­tonCup an­nouncer, fea­tures the voice of NAS­CAR Hall of Famer Dar­rell Wal­trip.

“For the first ‘Cars,’ we didn’t have much of a [for­mal] re­la­tion­ship with them,” Jay Ward, Pixar’s cre­ative di­rec­tor and car spe­cial­ist, said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “They were much more re­cep­tive this time.”

Jeff Siner Char­lotte Ob­server

CLINT BOWYER calls his Ste­wart-Haas gig “ev­ery­thing you were hop­ing for and dreamed it could be.”

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