MONTE DUTTON – CHANGE IS ON BACK ORDER
Clint Bowyer is likable. He’s funny. After winning the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Monday, Bowyer made no secret that he planned to party like it was, at the very least, 2012.
He’s a character. NASCAR needs characters.
This isn’t to say that everybody likes him. If Jesus had a Cup ride, a segment of the fans would complain that he was too nice and didn’t race the Devil hard enough.
Bowyer is 38. He has been racing full-time in what is now the Monster Energy Cup Series since 2006. He’s won nine times in 438 tries. When he crossed the finish line first at the sport’s oldest track, it was the first time since 2012. Bowyer went 190 races between his eighth and ninth victories.
Some don’t like him because he hasn’t won enough to suit them. Some hold events from the past against him. Choose any 438 races of any driver’s career, and there are bound to be mistakes, low points, rash moves, and harsh remarks.
For every fan drawn drawn to Bowyer by his gregarious personality, there is one who holds it against him. For every fan who loves Bowyer because he “tells it like it is,” there is another who thinks he’s “a whiner.”
It’s a consequence of freedom accelerated by life’s ever-increasing immediacy. Twitter explodes far more often than fireworks factories.
NASCAR needs more like him.
It’s a funny thing about Martinsville. It’s the track most like the one where most stock car racers got started, and, yet, one of the more difficult for them to conquer once they get there.
“This place is an acquired taste,” Bowyer said. “When I first got here, I was a duck out of water just like everybody else that starts here at first. I learned from Jimmie Johnson, and learned from Jeff Gordon, sometimes the hard way, but nonetheless, I learned over the years and finally put it to good use.”
A hundred and ninety damned races without winning. Even the Cleveland Browns can’t touch those numbers. Someone believed in Bowyer. He spent some time out in the wilderness. Even when Tony Stewart gave him a new lease on career by putting him in the No. 14 Stewart was vacating, it took more than a year to win again.
“Who doesn't love Clint, know what I mean?” Greg Zipadelli, the Stewart-Haas competition director. “He's a great guy who's a great addition ... but like ‘Buga’ (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) said, for these guys, they've been through a lot of ups and downs in the past few years.”
Zipadelli may have been talking about the environs of Victory Lane, or the media center, where existed there no signs of Bowyer antipathy, but even Richard Petty had his detractors. Okay, I never saw them, but I’ve heard there was once an enclave in Alabama.
One revered veteran after another has pushed the pedal to the metal out into the sunset, and yet it seems as if every race so far has been contested on Throwback Thursdays. The youngest winner, Austin Dillon, was racing for a throwback team. It can’t last forever. All that young talent isn’t going to stay bottled up forever, waiting for all that good moonshine to run out.
At the moment, it’s all quite touching.
“When Mike (Bugarewicz) talks, I feel like he has confidence in me, you know, and then, when I talk, somehow, for some reason, I think he's starting to have some confidence in me,” Bowyer said.
Hey! Tap a keg.