Performance under pressure is the name of the game in NASCAR, but Clint Bowyer had a little extra pressure in 2019. For much of the season, the hot rumor around the Cup Series garage was that Bowyer’s job was on the line, and that he could be replaced in the No. 14 this year by Xfinity Series standout Cole Custer.
In the end, Bowyer delivered. His ninth-place finish last year was actually his best points finish since he came in seventh in 2013, and his 18 top 10s were also the most he’s scored since 2013. While his average finish dropped a couple of spots, Bowyer’s 2019 was a successful season by most standards.
For Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole, 2019 did not bring the level of success that the organization enjoyed in 2018, when all four SHR teams won at least one race. Kevin Harvick had multiple wins and made the final playoff race again, but he couldn’t run with Kyle Busch in the title race. Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suárez all went winless.
Bowyer was 15th in points after NASCAR’s regular season, and he squeaked into the playoffs by 15 points. But he made the most of the first two rounds, just missing the cut into the Round of 8, and scored six top 10s overall during the 10-race playoff stretch.
It wasn’t until October that team officials confirmed that Bowyer would return to the No. 14 for the 2020 season. He’ll race this year with a new crew chief; in hopes of shaking up the performance of both the No. 14 and Almirola’s No. 10, SHR made the decision to swap crew chiefs between the teams. That moves Johnny Klausmeier to Bowyer’s pit box. Klausmeier knows the SHR system, so it could be a good fit for all parties.
Bowyer’s sponsor rotation of Rush Truck Centers, Mobil 1 and Haas Automation is expected to return. Even with a slight downturn in 2019 overall, SHR is still a formidable organization. Bowyer fits in well and performs with relative consistency — and his outgoing personality makes him a fan favorite.
But will 2020 prove to be only a brief reprieve for Bowyer? SHR has Chase Briscoe in the Xfinity Series, and other than Cole Custer, the average age of its drivers will be over 40 at the end of the 2020 season. Bowyer will be 41 in May, and while it seems unlikely that he’ll hang up his helmet in the next couple of years, he does have two young children and may opt for that route in the not-too-distant future — that thought does have to be on the radar.
Bowyer should perform well enough to keep his ride beyond this season. His 10.7 average start in 2019 was a career high, and he’s consistent when luck is on his side. He has had a tendency to get caught in other people’s trouble at times, so if he can avoid that, he should make another playoff appearance and score a solid finish to the year.
All in all, Bowyer’s weakness last year was the number of incidents he was involved in. He does need to improve on the seven DNFs he amassed. Two of those were for mechanical woes, but crashes ended Bowyer’s day early five times. If he can run more consistently in the front pack, he’ll avoid some of those pitfalls suffered in traffic.
Bowyer is a talented driver who also has an outgoing, spontaneous personality. A solid season, rewarded with a contract extension — should he choose one — would be the best outcome all around, not only for Bowyer, but also for SHR and for his sponsors, for whom he brings experience and resonance with fans to the table. Does he have a serious title run left in him? Maybe not, but he’s still a valuable part of his team and the sport.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2020 Cup Championship: 30/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)