Clint Bowyer ready to ride momentum into Food City 500

nascarListening to Clint Bowyer on the radio during a Monster Cup Series event is entertaining to say the least.

The always vocal Kansas native tells it like it is whether its on the superspeedways or the short tracks, and always manages to interject some humor into the situation whether its qualifying, a wreck in turn three or questioning a fellow driver’s thinking or driving ability.

This week, Bowyer hopes to infuse his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford with even more “mo”, momentum that is, as Bowyer continues to be buoyed by his performance last week at Texas Motor Speedway.  A recent string of top ten finishes at Bristol is just another momentum push for Bowyer heading into The Last Great Colosseum.

Bowyer finished second at TMS Sunday in his No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing machine and will look to grab a victory this weekend at Bristol, where he’s run strong in the past but hasn’t found a way to seal the deal.

The way he figures it, the all-concrete bullring is due a little payback.

“Man I like short-track racing,” Bowyer said. “You’re really wheeling that thing, trying to keep the grip under your tires, forward bite. Trying to keep the thing turning. Fighting the balance of the cars. Fighting your crew chief all race long because you’re whining in the car, and he is tired of hearing you whine. But all those things need to come together to win that race and be successful.”

Bowyer, who led three laps of the Texas race ultimately followed event winner Denny Hamlin across the finish line, is ready to keep building on that effort.  Bowyer feels like Bristol could be the place for him to grab a victory that would secure him a spot in the Playoffs.

“Last week in Texas was a shot in the arm for us,” Bowyer said. “We were kind of down after Martinsville because we really thought we had a shot to win, or at least run top-three, and kind of shot ourselves in the foot. We struggled at Texas on Friday and Saturday, but we had a hell of a comeback on Sunday. We were the best we were all weekend during the race. That’s the way you want it. My guys did a heck of a job last weekend. Bristol should be more of the same. We ran well there last time and the place kind of owes us one after August.”

While “Rowdy” Kyle Busch has racked up a number of Cup Series victories at BMS, seven at last count, Busch has driven his No. 18 M&M’s machine to two of the last three victories here and his brother Kurt won the other one – the Night Race last August where he declared Bristol the ‘Holy Grail of Short Tracks.’ The Busch brothers will both be in the hunt for another Bristol trophy, and so will two-time season winner Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, a two-time winner this season and also a two-time Bristol winner.

The Stewart-Haas stable driver has been within striking distance every single time. Posting top 10 finishes in five of his last seven starts at BMS, including a 6th place finish last August and an 8th place finish during last year’s Food City 500. He finished a BMS-best of 2nd in the 2017 spring race.

Why not consider Bowyer a front runner for a chance at the win?

Well, In a year when Bristol Motor Speedway officials are going throwback with a celebration of Dale Earnhardt’s first Cup Series victory in April 1979, this could this be the year when a modern day throwback like Bowyer finally breaks through and gets that much sought after Gladiator Sword.

Bowyer will have to fight for the winning position against other strong Bristol drivers including Kevin Harvick, defending series champ Joey Logano, 2017 Food City 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez.

In addition to the Food City 500 on Sunday, the event also will showcase a Saturday doubleheader with the Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race and the Zombie Auto 150 NASCAR K&N Pro Series race.

On Friday, the Cup Series stars will try to break the BMS track record of 131.668 mph (Denny Hamlin, Aug. 2016) as they qualify during Bush’s Beans Pole Day. After qualifying the track gets festive for Friday afternoon’s Food City Family Race night, held at the track, one of the longest running fan events on the NASCAR circuit.

Saturday, cash will be on the line for four NASCAR Xfinity Series regulars as they battle it out for the “Dash 4 Cash” bonus in the Alsco 300. Christopher Bell, Michael Annett, Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe were the top finishers last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and should either of them win at Bristol, they could pocket an additional $100,000.

“It’s gonna be pretty cool getting to race for $100,000,” said Briscoe, who drives the No. 98 machine for Stewart-Haas Racing.. “It’s not every day you get to do that, so I’m looking forward to it.” Cup Series regulars Ryan Preece (April) and Kyle Larson (August) won last year’s Xfinity Series races at BMS, and Saturday’s race could be a wide open affair for an Xfinity Series regular to take home the prize when the green flag drops at 1 p.m.

In addition to the four drivers eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus, a strong group of Xfinity Series stars will be battling for victory including recent California winner Cole Custer, watermelon farmer Ross Chastain, JR Motorsports veteran Justin Allgaier, JR Motorsports rookie Noah  Gragson, Team Penske driver Austin Cindric, second generation driver John Hunter Nemechek and local favorite Chad Finchum, from Knoxville. Former Bristol K&N Series race winner Harrison Burton was recently announced as the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 machine and the second-generation driver will make his Xfinity Series debut on the famed all-concrete high banks.

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to make my Xfinity Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Burton, son of former Cup driver Jeff Burton. “(Primary sponsor) Dex has been so supportive of me from the very beginning, and I’m honored that they will be on board with me as I start this new chapter.” Burton is driving full time this season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in the No. 18 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“I am so pumped to be going to a team that has had so many accomplishments, with great drivers to look up to as I continue to grow in my racing career,” Burton said. “I am really grateful for this opportunity.”

A trio of ladies in addition to an all-star lineup of young racing talent is entered in the Zombie Auto 150 coming up after Saturday’s Xfinity Race.  Recent winner and sensation Hailie Deegan, who won earlier this year at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway dirt track. Deegan, who drives the No. 19 car for Bill McAnally, is a two-time winner in the Series and will be making her first Bristol start. Deegan claimed the honor of the first woman driver to win a NASCAR feature event in almost 31 years, after Shawna Robinson achieved that distinction in 1988.

Part-time NASCAR Truck Series driver Natalie Decker will drive the No. 98 car for David Gilliland Racing and Brittney Zamora, a rookie on the K&N Series circuit this year, will pilot the No. 99 machine for McAnally.  The green flag is scheduled to fall at 4 p.m. with several veteran drivers of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East division, including Ruben Garcia Jr., Brandon McReynolds, Anthony Sergi, Riley Herbst, Derek Kraus and Spencer Davis headlining the race.

A strong group of rookies will be making their first K&N starts at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile including former NHRA Pro Stock champion Tanner Gray, Georgia short track specialist Drew Dollar, the 2018 U.S. Short Track Nationals Super Late Model winner Raphael Lessard, Max McLaughlin and Mason Diaz.

The Bristol Weekend Experience begins Friday with qualifying sponsored by Bush Beans, Food City Family Race Night, then on Saturday, the Xfinity race and K&N Series races, culminating with the Food City 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Tickets are still available for the events by going to www.bristolmotorspeedway.com.

By Rod Mullins | Augusta Free Press

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