The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway this weekend for Saturday night racing. Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, is a two-time winner at Richmond. On Tuesday Bowyer took time out of his schedule to participate in NASCAR’s weekly teleconference. During that teleconference, he talked about such things as qualifying procedures, racing at Richmond and his life away from the track, among other things. Here’s a transcript:
Q. A couple things on qualifying. First of all, I know it’s only a handful of races, but what do you think about the new format for the road race qualifying?
CLINT BOWYER: I think it’s good. I think it needed done. Seems like qualifying — especially when I think back at Sonoma, it just seemed like it was kind of a little bit of a dead downtime out there anyway. I think it’ll help. Having to pull on to the track mid-track and not getting that extra lap of run-up time on those road courses especially is hard for a race car driver. Now obviously that’s the same across the board, and it kind of made it interesting and how qualifying ended up, but at the end of the day, I think it will be better for our fans and more exciting.
Q. As a follow-up, is there any kind of a logical kind of connect-the-dots that you could kind of have a similar format for standard races, or is that just way too complicated to try to do something like that?
CLINT BOWYER: I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t know if it’s because of being complicated. I just think it’s — a lot of places we only run one lap anyway, and that’s your fastest lap, the very first lap in qualifying trim with air pressures and everything that we do. Really I’m glad that they looked at it and made the decision to do it on the road courses. But as far as the regular round-and-rounds, I think we’re just fine.
Q. You’ve been a very good driver for a while, and you seem to have moved to the — to a higher level now where you’re not just in the races, you’re contending for a victory every time you go out. What’s been the difference in recent years in your ability and your quality?
CLINT BOWYER: You know, I appreciate that, first of all, but it’s all about the people you have around you. Brian Pattie, everybody on our 5-Hour Energy Toyota is just really, really on. I’ve got an awesome group, from the crew chief like I said with Pattie to engineers, over-the-wall crew has really turned the corner and gotten a lot better this year. We just keep perfecting what we’ve got. But everybody at MWR, everybody at TRD, you know, it’s just a really good package and a great program that I’m a part of, and I think the results are kind of speaking for themselves.
Q. That’s always got to be the case, but what about just you on the track, you as a driver?
CLINT BOWYER: I mean, I’ll just say, obviously you learn things and you perfect your program, as well. But it is; I’m telling you, it’s the people that are around you. That’s the only thing that’s changed. I went from, like you said, just kind of being one of the boys to one of the elite, and it’s because of making the change to MWR, to the Toyota camp and having Brian Pattie and everybody on our 15 car. That’s been the thing that’s changed.
Q. I was curious what you’re anticipating next week at Talladega. Are you anticipating a race much like Daytona or difference in the track, and if there are any sort of rule changes, any difference in how things will go?
CLINT BOWYER: Well, certainly hope that it’s better. I mean, Daytona was — it wasn’t that it was bad. There was a tremendous amount of things that happened at Daytona as a whole for our sport of NASCAR. The Cup race, could it have been better? Probably. Was it the very first race with the brand new car fresh out of the box? Yes. There’s always things to be learned.
You know, and I’ve said this time and time again, the restrictor plates are something — the goal of what a good race is and the vision of the fan changes from time to time, not for a bad thing, it’s just that’s facts. What our fans ask for and what we strive for as far as a product on the racetrack on those superspeedways changes sometimes, and certainly with that changing, the good thing about that, what I’ve seen is the restrictor plate tracks are a heck of a lot easier to change and perfect and manipulate rule-wise as are these mile-and-a-halfs and short tracks.
That being said, I think we’re definitely on to something with the Gen-6 car. I think it’s really made a huge impact in what we’re putting on the racetrack for product and then moving on into these superspeedways. Hopefully if we get down there and they don’t see what they want to see as far as racing, I think there’s some things that we could possibly do to change the car ever so slightly and obviously change the product.
Q. And as far as Richmond goes, can you carry over anything from the win last year to this weekend, or being a different car and that race is so much more about maybe momentum for the rest of the year rather than maybe as far as going back this year?
CLINT BOWYER: Once you win at a racetrack, every time you go back there after that, there’s always something you can carry in, and that’s confidence headed into that racetrack. We had a solid run, a top-5 run at Kansas at home, and a little extra boost of confidence and momentum rolling into a track that’s really good for me. So yes, absolutely. I’m looking forward to getting to Richmond. I know the boys are, and they’re going to have the racer set on fuel for me.
Q. You’ve been good at Richmond from the get-go, and you have a couple of wins there. What is it that you like about that track and why you’re so good? And this year in general why so good on the short tracks, which I know is another reason you’re looking forward to coming to Richmond?
CLINT BOWYER: Richmond is one of the coolest racetracks on the circuit. It always has been in my mind. I think it’s a perfect blend of speed – as a fan you get that sensation of speed – but it’s also short track racing at its best. A fan can see us rooting and gouging and beating and banging on each other and really putting on a good show. I wish there was five more of them across the country. But obviously selfishly that’s because I run well there. I grew up racing short tracks. I enjoy the short tracks. I’m relatively good on the short tracks, and that’s why I like them.
Q. We’ve heard a lot about how drivers who finished second the year before had struggled. Were you aware of that going into the year, did you talk about it as a team, and where do you feel your team is eight races into the season?
CLINT BOWYER: I think we picked up right where we left off last year. Obviously everybody talks about that sophomore jinx and everything else. It just wasn’t the case with us, or the second place jinx, not really the sophomore jinx. The reason I didn’t think so is everybody else that had finished second, Carl — looking at Carl in particular, he lost by a point. Just the devastation from that can carry over not just within a driver but everybody across the board on the race team.
You know, that being said, we were first year in with a brand new team, we finished second in the championship, won three races. There was absolutely nothing to be hanging your head on, holding your head down. That was just — we were all super pumped up and couldn’t wait to get started in 2013.
For us it’s just kind of been business as usual. We’ve had some bumps in the road, we’ve had some bad luck that we’ve had to battle through. But nonetheless, we’ve been able to continue to rebound after a bad weekend and get a good finish.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the art of short track racing? We get so excited when we go to short tracks, but to try to define it to people who are out on the road. What is the art of short track racing?
CLINT BOWYER: You’ve got to hit your marks, you’ve got to be precise, you’ve got to get your car handling. At the end of the day it’s no different than these bigger racetracks, but that being said, it seems like I’m better at getting my car to handle as good or better than the competition at these short tracks. You’ve got to be able to put the power down, wide open up off the corners, you’ve got to be able to get into the corners first and foremost. A lot of these short tracks we get loose in, and once you’re loose in on any racetrack you just can’t complete the corner and you’re going to be off a little bit on speed. So you just focus on the balance of your race car, where you need to be, and then race hard.
But more importantly, get comfortable. On the short tracks, things happen so fast, if you’re not comfortable, if you’re tense and up on the wheel and just can’t get settled into a pace, it seems like you struggle really bad, and most of the time I can get to where I’m relatively comfortable and can get to just pacing and making laps.
Q. Does the Gen-6 car change who would be good at short track racing? We have all the data, we talk about it leading into races, those that are great short track racers. The Gen-6 kind of will or will not change the game for any folks who are good at it?
CLINT BOWYER: It’s going to make it better. I think it’s got more grip. And any time you have that, you’re going to race harder, you’re going to race tighter and closer and put on a better show for your fans. At the end of the day, I think that’s the difference, and that’s why the Gen-6 car is outperforming the other one. They’re a little bit lighter, a little bit lower, and any time you’re lighter and lower you’re going to be faster.
Q. But those who are good at short track racing in the previous car, it won’t change the game, they’ll still be the good ones in the stack in the Gen-6 car, won’t change that for those who are good at it?
CLINT BOWYER: Cream always rises to the top. Funny how that happens. It doesn’t matter what you’re in. Jimmie Johnson is at the front of the pack, it doesn’t matter where you’re at or what he’s in.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about your personality? You seem to be a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky guy. You came into Martinsville after that race and you were in a good mood joking with Danica. Have you always been that way? And it’s been two years, but can you talk about your appearance on Duck Dynasty and is that something you want to do again?
CLINT BOWYER: (Laughing) Well, I mean, obviously personality, everybody has their own personality, and it’s just kind of mine. I’ve been able to kind of come into my own and be my own self a little bit more since going to MWR, the sponsor, everything, just all of my surroundings kind of enabled me to be who I am so it probably comes out a little bit more. But more importantly probably just running better. I think you just see more of me. I really truly believe that’s what it is. With running better you see more appearances and stuff like that.
Just like with the Duck Dynasty appearance. It was a lot of fun. Funny, when Willie found out that — he’s like, “you don’t really have that limousine, do you?” I’m like, “well, hell yeah.” He’s like, “well, we got to have it.” Then the next thing was, well, how am I going to get it to Monroe, Louisiana. This thing is an ’89 Cadillac limo. It’s built for fun and for a laugh, not necessarily for a road trip. I had to spend a little money on the old girl to get roadworthy enough to get to Monroe, Louisiana.
Q. You got there okay and you won your race there.
CLINT BOWYER: Yeah, yeah. The old boys back home at the shop did good. They did me good.
Q. You’re brave on the track and adventurous off the track. What off-track adventure throws you the most?
CLINT BOWYER: It’s always different. I love hunting. I love being in the outdoors. I really enjoy that.
But heck, I just got back from the lake and was over there with my nephew, had a blast with him trying to keep up with him. For me it’s always different. It’s always a little bit different to — that’s the thing, I’m always on the go, I’m always doing something. It’s always something different. That’s when I’m most happy. If I’m home more than two or three days, I’m pretty well bummed out. I’m ready to get the hell out of there and do something.
Q. And about control, Jimmie Johnson doesn’t like to ride with the Thunderbirds because he wouldn’t be in control, and I asked the Thunderbird pilots about control and they don’t like not being in control. One of the pilots said she doesn’t like riding on roller coasters because she’s not in control but she can ride 600 miles an hour upside down. Do you prefer to be in control, as well?
CLINT BOWYER: I think everybody prefers being in control. But let me tell you something. Jimmie Johnson won’t ride in the Thunderbirds because he don’t want to get sick and be made fun of. That’s why Jimmie won’t get in there. Maybe he’s just scared of the simple fact of the Gs and what those planes are able to do. The control thing is a little bit of an excuse; I’m going to go ahead and call him out on that. When did he give that interview?
Q. This was probably last year sometime.
CLINT BOWYER: I’m just going to go ahead and call him out. He’s scared.
Q. How much did the track surface change since last October’s race at Kansas Speedway, and did it wear more or less than you expected?
CLINT BOWYER: I think it wore about the same. Seems like the new asphalt that they’re using in today’s day and age is quite a bit better. It’s not near as coarse as what we used to have, and I think they last a lot better than they — it’s amazing how that works, just as we have all — we learn a lot about any — whatever the product is, and it seems like the asphalt is a lot better than it used to be. That being said, it’s not going to wear out as much and it’s going to take time for things to progress. But the speeds are just incredible. With the new car and everything that happened, I thought the racing was wild, thought it was pretty intense.
Those restarts, let me tell you, that’s about as crazy a restarts as I’ve ever been a part of. It was — we were very fortunate and lucky that we didn’t tear up any more stuff than we did.
The truck race, how that ended up, that’s pretty much how I saw the Cup race being. It just didn’t get there.
Q. How much does it mean to you as a driver that NASCAR and Goodyear will run “Support Our Troops” tires at Charlotte?
CLINT BOWYER: It’s huge. Without these troops out sacrificing so we can enjoy what we do and enjoy our sport of NASCAR — we can’t do those things without the sacrifices that all of our men and women go through. So that being said, I think it’s only fitting that we show our support as much as we can, and Goodyear’s initiative having “Support Our Troops” on the tires is really cool for all of us to be a part of.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR