Driver of the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing
Clint Bowyer waited five long years to find his way back to Victory Lane, and he now enters 2019 with renewed confidence after a 2018 season that saw him win a pair of races and finish the year a solid 12th in driver points.
It was a long road back for Bowyer, who finished second in points in 2012 for Michael Waltrip Racing. A year later, Bowyer was embroiled in a cheating scandal when it was alleged that he spun his car on purpose in the final regular-season race to ensure teammate Martin Truex Jr. a playoff spot. The MWR organization was never the same afterward, losing sponsors and eventually shuttering after the 2015 season, leaving Bowyer with an uncertain future. But Tony Stewart saw enough in Bowyer to tap him to drive his own No. 14 after Stewart retired at the end of 2016. Bowyer drove for an underfunded team in the meantime, struggling to remain relevant, and the struggles continued in 2017 as he took over a team that had underperformed as well.
Then came 2018, and Bowyer showed he still had what it takes to win. His nine top 5s and 16 top 10s were his best since 2013, as the entire Stewart-Haas Racing stable proved to be a force to be reckoned with, sending all four drivers deep into the playoffs.
After facing skepticism when it made the jump from Chevrolet to Ford in 2017, SHR has become one of the manufacturer’s top teams, helping to lead Ford to its first manufacturer’s title since 2002.
Bowyer has all that to lean on as he enters 2019. He’ll have a new teammate as Kurt Busch has moved on, and that will make a difference. If everyone jells (and Stewart and Gene Haas have done an excellent job of creating a unified team among some very strong personalities), there’s no reason to believe Bowyer won’t make the playoffs and win a race or two along the way.
Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz has shown to be an excellent match for the excitable Bowyer, and the pair will remain together this year. The biggest question surrounds sponsorship. The team had piecemeal backing last year and will need races to be sold in order to remain competitive. Haas’ own company, Haas Automation, will likely pick up some slack, but when resources are stretched too thin, it never bodes well in the long term, so the team needs to secure some dollars.
Beyond that, the question is how far Bowyer can carry his team. He’s come close to titles a couple of times, but he has also been engulfed in controversy along the way. In 2010, a 150-point penalty for a chassis infraction after the playoff race at New Hampshire effectively ended any title hopes that season, and the 2013 MWR scandal still reverberates in the sport.
Bowyer has 10 Cup wins in 13 full seasons and a solid 15.7 average finish in that time. Are those championship-caliber numbers? No. Bowyer turns 40 later this year, and while it’s possible he’ll have a career year like he did in 2012, it’s not very likely.
That’s not to say he’s not a valuable asset to his team, because he is. Bowyer is well known for his quirky personality, and that resonates with fans. That’s good for any team. He fits in well with teammates Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola and lends a veteran presence that’s different from Harvick’s.
Bowyer can certainly repeat his 2018 success. And if he can put up a few more top 5s and top 10s, he can be a top-10 points driver; he’s done that five times, and he’s with the best team he’s had in his career. A top-10 finish is a reasonable expectation from Bowyer this year, even if a title is a stretch at this point.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 15/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)