KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Oct. 22, 2018) – No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Clint Bowyer endured a major crisis in March when he last visited Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Minutes after winning his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for SHR, Bowyer ran up into the stands to celebrate with the Virginia race fans.
"It's awesome at Martinsville," Bowyer said. "You're on the front straight away and you're talking to the people. You don't even have to scream to them. You can hear what they're saying."
That's when the crisis occurred.
"They didn't hear me when I was asking them for a Busch beer – none of them," he said. "They were all like, ‘Are you serious?' I'm like, ‘Yes, I'm serious – give me a beer.' But to be able to go up there and interact with those fans and share a beer with them, it's just special. That's what celebrating is all about."
Bowyer finally got his beer and celebrated with the fans.
He hopes he'll get a second chance to drink beer in the crowd this Sunday as the Cup Series returns to Martinsville for the First Data 500 – a race in which the stakes are as high as any this season. Martinsville is the first of the three-race Round of 8 in the Cup Series playoffs that determines the final four drivers who will contend for the title Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A win at Martinsville Sunday guarantees a place in the Homestead finale. Bowyer enters the Round of 8 fifth in the points but only three points out of the fourth and final transfer position.
"Now it is getting down to the nitty-gritty," he said. "Now it is eight good teams. There were 16 good teams, but there are eight damn good teams. All eight of these teams have found victory lane and things like that. Now you're starting to pick up the pace or you're going home."
Bowyer's No. 14 Ford will carry the Rush Truck Centers paint scheme again this weekend in Martinsville. Rush Truck Centers has been the primary partner on the No. 14 team since Bowyer arrived at SHR in 2017 and has been with the organization since 2010. The Texas-based company has used Bowyer and the team to appeal to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 22 states. According to Rush Truck Centers, the trucking industry is expected to need 200,000 diesel technicians over the next 10 years to keep up with maintenance demands.
In addition to his March victory on the flat, half-mile Martinsville oval, Bowyer owns six top-five finishes and 14 top-10s in 25 starts there. Located just 90 minutes from his Mocksville, North Carolina home, Bowyer says the facility reminds him of the roots of the sport. The pictures of his family running down the front stretch after the victory in March were some of the season's best.
"Martinsville for me is my new home track," he said. "Everybody lives down in the Charlotte area. We live up north, Winston-Salem area. That's my home track. That's the one racetrack you drive back and forth on qualifying day then go back up there for the race..
"Martinsville has such an old-school feel. Even the two-lane road going up to it where you can't ever get around anybody. You're stuck in traffic and then you finally get on the open road. Then, you get a ticket as soon as you get across the Virginia line. I had the same guy pull me over three years in a row. Finally, he gave me a ticket, which I deserved, and then you get to the racetrack. You're pulling into these people's backyards and here's this awesome racetrack."
Bowyer is part of a four-Ford SHR contingent that put all four of its drivers in the Round of 8 – the only team to do so in 2018. SHR owns 11 victories and each of its four drivers has visited victory lane in 2018. Bowyer hopes he can add to those numbers at one of the Round of 8 races in Martinsville, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth or ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
"I am way more comfortable on the short tracks," Bowyer said. "If I can put together Martinsville and Phoenix like I am capable of and run Texas like we are capable of, I think we can be in Homestead (for the winner-take-all championship final)."
If that happens, he won't have trouble finding a post-race Busch beer.
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Is there any gloating at SHR over the 2018 performance?
"No, and that is what is cool about SHR. There is none of that. There are no cocky attitudes or arrogance or anything else. Everyone works hard and are racers and we're damn proud of what we've accomplished. We all know that we have to continue to do that and continue to get better because, if we are not, the next team is. There is a lot of work to be done. We need to bring a championship home to Ford. They have invested so much into their motorsports program, into Stewart-Haas in particular, each and every one of us. They invest in us."
What are your thoughts on Martinsville?
"Yeah, for me, I spent a lot of time on an airplane this week and a lot of time thinking and just playing out where we are at. Where we are at as a race team and as far as the playoffs and opportunities ahead and things like that. I have two good tracks for me that historically have been good and can put me in the Championship 4 for a shot at the championship at Homestead. I love Phoenix. That is another good track for us. This is a big deal – I know it is."
Should there be more Martinsville-type tracks on the circuit?
"If I could do anything in this sport, I would remove that track and I would move it as we go all through the country. That's what I would do. We need more short tracks and places just like Martinsville is exactly the ticket."