Clint Bowyer heads into Sonoma as defending race winner

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Sonoma, Calif., for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 road course race at Sonoma Raceway, Clint Bowyer heads into the weekend as the defending race winner at the track. Not known as a stellar road racer, Bowyer’s win from a year ago came as a surprise to many, maybe even Bowyer, himself.

While in Sonoma for the Sunday race, Bowyer spoke to the media about road course racing, the Chase for the Sprint Cup and his 2013 season, so far. Here’s a transcript from that press conference:

Are you looking forward to this weekend at Sonoma Raceway?

“It has been good to me, it’s a fun race track.  It’s a short track of road course racing and it just kind of fits my driving style. It’s a fun weekend for everyone in the garage area.  It’s almost like vacation, it really is for everybody — the wives, the girlfriends — they all go on wine tours, we get done with practice today and have our hands full with a complete mess on our hands, nonetheless, everybody is having a lot of fun.”

How do you anticipate the new qualifying format that will be used here on Saturday?

“I think it’s a good idea, just for the fans.  It all goes back to the fans.  They want to see us on the race track and when we go behind those billboards down the drag strip and pull on (to the track) halfway down the back straight and make a run at it, they don’t see us very much.  I think it’s good for the fans, it’s good for us.  I think it’s so much easier to get in a rhythm. Road course racing is all about rhythm, timing — very, very difficult to do that pulling on the back straightaway and hitting your marks like that.  I think it will probably take away that good driver or good team that accidently messes his lap up that we had before, but I think all your fast cars will probably be up front because of it.”

Would you have ever anticipated earlier in your career being in victory lane at Sonoma like you were last year?

“No, not in a million years.  After the first couple stabs at it, I was relatively pretty good out here.  I struggled a lot at Watkins Glen, but always was able to find pretty good speed and get settled in and get comfortable out here.  Last year, in practice our car was very fast.  Even before that, we went to VIR (Virginia International Raceway) and tested, and several of what we would call ringers were there and I was every bit as fast as them, if not faster and I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?  I think this car is extremely fast because I know I’m not.’  Then I came out here and it was still the same thing.  After practice I had a pretty good feeling and I needed to get a good night’s rest because I had a pretty good shot at it.”

What type of pressure do you feel when you are trying to secure a spot in the Chase?

“It sucks not getting in (the Chase).  It’s so difficult, you and your team work so hard — that makes your season.  The Chase makes your season. Competing for a championship for your team, for your sponsors more than anything — they want their car to be in that Chase because that’s where all the limelight is.  The pressure is unbelievable when you’re on that hinge of making it or not making it.  It’s not a good feeling that I’d wish upon anybody.  That’s what makes the Chase so prestigious.”

What do you say to critics who thought you wouldn’t have won the Sonoma race last year?

“I read (Marcos) Ambrose’s quote — that was kind of mean.  Who would have thought he’d have shut his car off leading and not win the race with a dominant day.  So, bam — make sure you post that quote right back at you Ambrose.  He is amazing. To watch him, last year I remember, his car was terrible and he had that thing hung out driving absolute daylights out of it and you see that and you’re like, ‘Man, I hope I don’t ever get that thing pointed in the right direction and rolling good because he’s going to be a handful,’ and he usually is and I think he will be this year.  Went to VIR (Virginia International Raceway) when we tested for the day there and (Juan Pablo) Montoya was out there, he was extremely fast.  Those guys, their backgrounds and stuff like that obviously, this is there background and their wheelhouse and I think they’re going to be the ones to beat always when you come here.  I think everybody in this sport in this Cup Series has really picked the pace up as far as road course abilities and skills.”

What helped you improve on road course racing?

“I think a big part of it is engineering.  They came into this sport — our engineers were able to get our cars underneath us way better than we could before.  Those ringers would go test time and time again all over the place, all sorts of different race tracks in preparation for these one or two races, and when we’d get there our focus is on those mile-and-a-half tracks that make up the biggest part of the season.  That’s a big difference.  When we get here and we’re on the same playing field as they are, I feel like I’m proud to say the Cup regulars are holding their own.”

Do you still have the broken goblet from last year’s victory lane celebration?

“They gave me a new one.  Things got a little out of hand as they normally do when we win races.  It’s supposed to be fun. That was definitely not on the play list, breaking — I didn’t know it was a goblet — that glass cup that we were using to drink wine out of.  Somebody broke it, I think Michael (Waltrip) broke it, didn’t he?  Maybe they’ll give us a plastic one this year.”

Are you confident your engine will be competitive this week?

“Here, on that specific area, you always dial them (engines) back anyway.  Fuel mileage is so important here, you cut a lot of the horsepower out of the cars to keep that forward drive and keep your momentum strong throughout the run and obviously make it to the end.  I don’t think it will be a big issue here.  Here, more than anything, we’re having valve train issues and this is extremely difficult on valve trains, if you don’t do your job in the car — if you’re missing shifts, over-revving, going back down through the gear box.  You’re holding the gear stick and if you don’t do your job, you’re going to probably be in the hauler.  And, that doesn’t matter if you’re a Toyota, X brand — doesn’t matter.  Anybody, you’ve got to hit your marks shifting at a road course or you’re going to be — it’s going to be in the box early.”

Why has racing at road courses become more difficult in recent years and you see drivers taking advantage of one another?

“Because you can, but because the opportunity is there.  Simple as that.  There’s a lot of guys that hate it, including me — if you come out on the winning end of it, there’s nothing more fun, but when you get wiped out, you get dumped — you can hear them coming.  You know the guy is getting impatient and he’s dive-bombing you and you’re trying to hold it out to get the good arc and get to drive off because you’re working on the car in front of you.  All of a sudden, he loses his mind and you can hear him wheel-hopping you and you’re like, ‘Oh god, here we go, bam.’  Then you both go for a ride and it’s just not good.”

When did you first realize you wanted to become a racer?

“Well, I was racing since I was four years old, but it was 2002 and I was racing dirt and got an opportunity to race a guy’s asphalt car and that was the year we won both track championships and a regional championship and weekly racing series and that was the first year I was like, probably not going to be a good living, but I think I can make a living doing this and not have to go punch a time card.  I was pretty set from 2002 on.”

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name Jacques Villeneuve?

“Train wreck, extremely fast train, but usually ends up derailed somehow.  I don’t mean that roust.  There has to be a level of respect and it doesn’t matter if you’re racing for points throughout the season, or just show up and race against the peers of one of the premier levels of all of motorsports.  If that respect is not there, you’re not going to come in and beat and bang on this bunch for long and you’re probably going to be frustrated by the end of the day.  That’s not a threat or anything else. We’ve all seen what will happen in those Nationwide races and it was too bad because there seemed to be one common denominator in a lot of the cautions that came out.”

Is there such thing as a road course ringer anymore, and if so, do you resent them?

“No, absolutely not.  It’s a challenge.  You welcome that, you want — the pocket book doesn’t want to see them show up, but the racer in you wants to see them show up.  There’s a good chance they can show up and take your money.  I’m proud to say, over the last few years the old standard Cup guys have been taking care of business.”

Where do you assess your season so far this year?

“Kind of a status quo.  I think we’re maintaining where we need to at this point in the season.  Top-10s is all it takes, especially with the points based established that we have, you just can’t beat yourself.  This is a race track where you can absolutely lose a lot of ground in the points and do not want to see that, however this is the very track where we got the ball rolling and really turned the page with our new program last year.  I’m looking to do the same thing.  We’ve been off here the last few weeks.  It’s there, but still we’ve been able to maintain.  A bad day was seventh (Michigan) or whatever and we ended up 15th wherever we were before that (Pocono).  It was obviously a struggle, but nonetheless, I’m proud of my guys and proud of where we’re at with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing).  Martin (Truex Jr.) had a good run last week.  There’s definitely that potential lurking right there, we just have to hit our stride and I think we will.”

How much does a win boost a team’s confidence?

“Look at Tony Stewart.  I have no idea what it does, but you win a race, the confidence boost it gives you and your team and your organization — Stewart is a prime example.  What was it four weeks ago, you guys were hammering him to the point where he was fighting back, snapping back a little bit.  He wins, now he’s running the top-five ever since.  He’s one to beat. He’ll be the one to beat here.  He’ll be one of the cars you’ll have to beat to win the race.  I don’t know what it does.  It’s hard to explain momentum, the roll that you get on and probably all of sports, but this sport in particular.  It seems like Jimmie Johnson has always been able to stay on that roll, though.”

Will we see a change in the racing at Daytona when returning there if a few weeks for night racing?

“You could.  I’m telling you that could play a role, especially with as hot as it is going back.  I hope so.  I really do hope that handling becomes an issue at these restrictor plate tracks.  It seems like it adds an extra element to it.  Again, I said it earlier, the one thing I love about restrictor plate racing, it seems to be a lot easier to manipulate the product on the race track, whether it’s a spoiler change, a restrictor plate change — they can change and manipulate a few things on the body with the aero package and seems like they can change a product for our fans way easier for a mile-and-a-half track or even a short track.  For me, I look at those tracks as blue sky because I feel like we can — whatever the goal is, our fans are asking for, we can get there.”

Why do drivers take advantage of restarts here more than other tracks?

“Because you can.  Extremely difficult, challenging, insane – it’s your blocking everything — you’re trying to pass the car in front of you and you’re trying to take advantage of him.  If he slips up the least little bit, you’re going to be there for the taking and the guy behind you is doing the same thing and a lot of times when you’re trying to pass to make a move on the car in front of you, it opens the door for you to get a different angle on you or something like that.  It’s a pretty intense situation.  It’s like restrictor plate racing — I’m telling you — you’re looking out the mirror as much as you’re looking out the windshield.  You’re playing offense-defense the whole time on a restart and as soon as you get single-file, man it’s a breath of fresh air.  You’re like, ‘Whew, thank God, get away from me.’  Double file here, there’s just not enough room especially deep into the race.  There’s rubber, debris, stuff like that out on the — there’s one groove and if you get out of it the least little bit, you have your hands full.”

Should there be a code for drives on restarts at road courses?

“I sure hope at the end of the race, if I’m not winning and the leader is right in front of me, I hope he uses that code and swings out thinking I won’t go stick it in the inside and try to pass him.  That’s what happens to those code of ethics in this sport — we take advantage of them as soon as the opportunity presents itself.”

Do you think it’s frustrating for Kurt Busch not be racing with a top-tier team?

“I am a firm believer, you make your own bed.  He (Kurt Busch) is such a talent in the race car that he is able to take an underfunded team and run well.  Almost won that race.  Literally, that car couldn’t get any smaller.  I couldn’t make it any smaller in the mirror, it just kept getting bigger and bigger.  It was hard.  Again, what he’s been able to do for his career, this is a comeback and we all know his talent and we all know his downfalls.  If he can keep them all pointed in the right direction, he’s going to have — where he’s at now, that Furniture Row team, Todd Barrier is my neighbor, I know a lot of that team and obviously they’re affiliated with RCR (Richard Childress Racing), I’m close to a lot of people.  He’s got all the tools that he needs to get the job done and he will.”

– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR

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Topics: Clint Bowyer, NASCAR, Sonoma Raceway

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