The 2011 racing season has been bizarre for Clint Bowyer.
Heading into Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Bowyer is still battling for one of the final spots in NASCAR’s “Chase for the Cup” playoffs, but unusual circumstances popping up haven’t made it easy.
“That’s obviously the goal (to make the Chase), but we just keep having crazy things happen,” said Bowyer, currently 11th in the points. “We had another good run going in Pocono and the radiator tab broke and the radiator fell out of the thing. I mean it’s just one crazy thing after another.”
Bowyer realizes Bristol is definitely a place where the weird and unexpected can happen at any moment. While you might think the driver of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet would be cautious coming into Bristol, he takes an opposite approach.
“This is one of those tracks where you just have to race as hard as you can,” he said. “If you try to be conservative, this place is going to bite you. You have to be able to go out there and give it your all. Give it 100 percent, expect that of your teammates and if you do that, that is all you can do.”
The strategy has worked for Bowyer before, at least in the Nationwide Series, where he was the winner of the Sharpie Mini 300 in 2008. It’s been more mixed results on the Sprint Cup side, where three top-five finishes are matched by three finishes of 35th or worse in 11 previous starts.
A good example is his last two Bristol visits.
In last year’s IRWIN Tools Night Race, Bowyer had a strong fourth-place run, but followed it up with a 35th place finish at the Jeff Byrd 500 in March.
Still, he believes to race hard is the only acceptable strategy at Bristol.
“If you get caught up in something, you were trying as hard as you could,” he said. “If you get caught up in something and you knew you were lagging back and trying to be protective, you are going to get yourself in trouble. It happens every time here. You just have to race as hard as you can, as safe as you can, as quietly as you can, more importantly.”
Bowyer, whose short track resume’ includes winning Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream charity dirt-track race at Eldora (Ohio) Speedway in June, said that qualifying goes a long ways at Bristol. In his words, starting up front means you’re away from eye of the storm.
The racing now is especially tight and not just for the points. That factor magnifies a situation when a driver or team is off for the weekend according to Bowyer.
“As I said the closeness of the racing has really opened up bad days for everybody in this sport,” said the 31-year-old Kansas native. “Everybody, the best teams in this sport have had good days and bad days and I think it’s just because of the closeness of the racing, the box we’re in right now.”
With a Chase berth on the line, Bowyer feels Saturday night is a time when his No. 33 team gains ground instead of losing it.
“This is a crucial time for us,” he said. “We’ve got them breathing down our necks and we’re still within reaching distance of the cars in front of us, so this is a good time to get things pointed in the right direction points-wise. It’s an important weekend for sure.”