FORT WORTH, Texas — Clint Bowyer just can’t help himself. He can’t stop grinning.
He’s thrilled to be driving the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and he just can’t hide it.
“It’s certainly been an anticipated year for me,” Bowyer said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “It’s been fun so far. You always want to be better, you always want to be contending for wins every week. That’s what they pay us for. So far, so good.”
Heading into Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the newly repaved and reconfigured 1.5-mile track, Bowyer was sitting eighth in the drivers’ points standings. He is coming off back-to-back strong finishes of third at Fontana and seventh at Martinsville.
Although it’s quite obvious Bowyer simply does not like to talk about last year – when he drove for HScott Motorsports while waiting out Tony Stewart’s final season in the No. 14 at SHR – the comparisons to it are inevitable.
Bowyer failed to register a single top-five finish for the first time since he began driving full time in the Cup Series in 2006. He also finished 27th in points, by far the worst showing of his career.
What kept him going then – and has him smiling so much now – is that he was convinced all along that it would get better as soon as he could get behind the wheel in SHR’s superior equipment.
“Last year is just last year,” Bowyer said. “I think I was prepared to enjoy this year even last year. This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, whether it was my first opportunity in this sport or my last.
“To drive for this manufacturer, Ford, and the support they are giving us. Everyone at Stewart-Haas, the management and sponsors and my teammates. You don’t put enough emphasis on the impact a good teammate can have on you.
“We have drivers capable of winning races and championships. I have two championship-winning drivers as teammates (in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch). Danica (Patrick, his other SHR teammate), everything she brings for our entire sport, let alone the company. This is the opportunity you are giddy about no matter where you are at in your career.”
Bowyer said he never doubted that this season would be everything he imagined, and maybe even more. But he also said that’s in large part because of how hard everyone in the SHR organization works day in and day out.
“There is nothing in this sport at this level that comes easy,” Bowyer said. “It doesn’t matter the race track or circumstances, it is always hard because there is always the next guy working every bit as hard to accomplish the same goal.
“That being said, I knew it would be a positive move.”
He said he knew it in large part because of his familiarity with new teammates Harvick and Kurt Busch – particularly with Harvick, who also is an old teammate from when both drivers were employed at Richard Childress Racing. That’s where Bowyer got his start in NASCAR, with a big assist from Harvick.
“I am very well aware of Kevin,” Bowyer said. “We’re good friends and have done a lot of things off the race track together. I was very happy to get back working with him because everything I have learned in this sport of racing and race cars was always in his seat, with his pedals, where his steering wheel was.
“Kevin always had it and I didn’t know any better. I had never drove one before. Everything I did when I learned how to drive these cars was how Kevin did it. When I came to Stewart-Haas they asked what I wanted to do with my pedals and seat and I said, ‘Hell, I don’t know, ask Kevin.’ It has been that way my whole career.”
Bowyer also said Kurt Busch has been a huge help since his arrival at SHR.
“Kurt really dissects his car more than anything I have ever heard,” Bowyer said. “It really gets your mind going about maybe what you thought or a trick somewhere, makes you think about what maybe you were feeling when you thought you were feeling something else.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to be in the meetings with those guys and debrief with them and work on the next week or even just the race after practice. It is really cool to have those guys’ input going into a race or the following week.”
It’s obviously enough to put a perpetual smile on a guy’s face.
gallery: Stewart-Haas Racing 2017 paint schemes