Certainly Auto Club 400 race-winner Kyle Larson was the happiest guy at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway after he held on through a spate of late-race cautions to score a huge victory and sweep the weekend.
But in terms of happiness, third-place finisher Clint Bowyer wasn’t far behind.
True, Bowyer didn’t win.
But for the first time in a long time, he ran like a potential race-winner.
Bowyer spent the 2015 season with Michael Waltrip Racing and last year with HScott Motorsports, two teams that went out of business at the end of Bowyer’s stints with them.
So when Bowyer moved to the powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing outfit for this year, his joy and enthusiasm were infectious.
Now, he has his first top-five finish with the team after finishing no worse than 13th in any of the last three races.
Yeah, that was a big deal for Bowyer, especially since it was his first top-five finish since the Bristol night race in August 2015.
“It means a lot to me to be in this 14,” Bowyer said after the race. “I have a lot of fun with these guys. Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and all these guys mean business.”
More than anything, though, it’s another indicator that after two years in NASCAR’s equivalent of purgatory, Bowyer is a contender to win and compete for a title again.
“It’s a confidence thing right now, a momentum-builder and we’re getting closer,” said Bowyer of his finish. “Obviously, this is a good track for me. I wanted to win that damn thing, but to come home with the wild finish and everything that it was, we’ll take it.”
Asked if he saw this coming, Bowyer affirmed that he did.
“Hell, yeah. It better be coming,” he said. “When you’ve got a team like this that’s organized and as good as they are, it better be.”
And when you run well, no question, life looks better.
“I’m just having fun again,” Bowyer said, as if there was any doubt about it. “That’s what it’s about.”
gallery: Final running order from Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway