Tampa Bay Sports Day

NASCAR Notebook: Bowyer Won’t Celebrate Third-place Finish

FONTANA, Calif. –– Even though he had just posted his best Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finish since 2015, Clint Bowyer didn’t expect effusive praise from the driver he succeeded.

So when Bowyer pulled onto pit road at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday after running third behind race winner Kyle Larson and runner-up Brad Keselowski in the Auto Club 400, Stewart’s reaction, as a car owner, was predictably restrained.

“Good job,” Stewart said to his driver.

Bowyer hadn’t expected anything more.

“Tony wins a lot of races,” Bowyer elaborated. “He’s won a lot of races. Anything less than a win, you know … he expects that. And I love that about Tony.

“Obviously, I know he’s proud. He was happy with that. But that’s what you want in an owner. You know what I mean? To have that instilled in everything, in your DNA, I mean, this is the way I was raised.

“Anything else but a win is a bad day. You are miserable with anything less than that. It’s just the way we’re wired as a race car driver from five years old and on. The problem is, is everybody else on that racetrack is wired the same way. So there’s really only one guy happy, and everybody else is pissed at the end of the day. That’s what it boils down to.”

In his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, and back in top-of-the-line equipment, Bowyer posted his best result since June 2015 at Sonoma, where he also ran third.

But to get a bona-fide celebration, he knows he’ll have to improve two positions.

Boxed in by pit strategy, Truex happy to run fourth
When Corey LaJoie’s brush with the Turn 2 wall brought out the sixth of seven cautions on Lap 192 of a scheduled 200, Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn gambled.

They stayed out on old tires for a restart on Lap 196, but only two other drivers, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray, followed suit. That left race winner Kyle Larson in the fourth starting position, and one lap after the resumption of action, he had the lead.

Truex considered himself fortunate to hold onto fourth place on old rubber after the race went to overtime and extended two laps beyond its posted distance.

“It was definitely not the situation we wanted to be in, but we thought more guys would stay out there (under the sixth caution),” said Truex, who led 73 laps, second only to Larson’s 110. “I think we only ran a few laps. It was definitely a disadvantage at the end and just really tight.

“Holding on for fourth was good for points. Overall, it was a good day for everybody. We just had that one pit stop and I slid a little bit — a foot or so further than I had all day. The guys got the air hose caught on the splitter and we lost six spots or whatever it was (during a stop under caution on Lap 181).

All in all, it was a good day, and we ran up front and led laps. The 42 (Larson) and I felt like we were the class of the field — he just got it done and we didn’t.”

Logano recovers to finish fifth
Joey Logano didn’t experience the early complications that beset teammate Brad Keselowski, but he nevertheless had to overcome late-race obstacles to pull off a fifth-place finish.

Logano pitted early on Lap 177, along with Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott. Three laps later, an ill-timed caution trapped Logano a lap down, but he regained the lead lap with a wave-around for a restart on Lap 185.

When caution flew on that same circuit for Matt Kenseth’s hard crash into the inside backstretch wall, Logano came to pit road for tires and ultimately drove up to fifth by the end of the two-lap overtime.

“It was up-and-down, for sure,” said Logano, who started the race 35th after his car failed to pass inspection in time to make a run in the first round of knockout qualifying on Friday. “Our car was really good on the short runs just like yesterday (in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race). Our car was good on the short runs and not good on the long runs.

We would lose too much time.

“We tried to short-pit them and got caught with the caution and got stuck down a lap with 20 to go or so. We were able to recover, and at one point I thought we were going to win the race and had some trouble on pit road and lost some spots again. But we were able to make some of them back up and end up with a top five out of it.

“I guess we need to try to make our car a little bit better on the long run and smooth out some mistakes.

(By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service)