DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — You could call Clint Bowyer the clown price of the Rolex 24 — but for one thing.
Yes, Bowyer had the media center in stitches after his first stint in the AF Waltrip Ferrari 458. On the track, however, in his first sports car competition, Bowyer showed some serious speed, as he and teammates Rob Kauffman, Michael Waltrip and Rui Aguas finished eighth in the GT classification and 16th overall in GRAND-AM’s most prestigious race.
Bowyer may downplay his own contribution, but don’t kid yourself. He won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event last June at Sonoma Raceway with a near-perfect drive. On Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, Bowyer held his own against some of the world’s most talented and experienced sports car drivers.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t lighten the mood of reporters facing a long night of race coverage.
Bowyer paid a visit to the media center after his first stint on the track. That was at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, four hours into the race.
“What time is it anyway–7:30?” Bowyer asked. “We’re almost to halfway, right? Who came up with the idea of a 24-hour race anyway?”
Herb Branham, NASCAR’s managing director of communications for GRAND-AM Road Racing, informed Bowyer that the vision for the Rolex 24 came from NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.
“That’s pretty cool then!” Bowyer replied.
If NASCAR had a statistical category for “saves,” Bowyer would be the early-season leader.
Bowyer also had issues trying to understand the Italian engineers on his team radio. The AF Waltrip team is a collaboration between Michael Waltrip Racing and an AF Corse organization, based in Italy, that has raced to considerable international acclaim.
The “AF” in AF Corse stands for team founder Amato Ferrari.
“The guys that talk to you (on the radio), I can’t understand ’em, other than ‘Pit!'” Bowyer said. “You can understand ‘Pit’ and that’s pretty much it. I asked them for lap times, and you might as well just carry on a conversation with yourself.”
Nevertheless, the pomp and circumstance of the Rolex 24 wasn’t lost on Bowyer, who will return to Daytona in two weeks for Daytona 500 qualifying.
“This is their biggest race of the year,” Bowyer said. “I think our Daytona 500 is exactly like that, with the thrill and the excitement in the air like that, especially down on the starting grid. It’s kind of comparable, but it sure is cool to see all the action, all the excitement, neat cars, a lot of different cars from what I’m used to…
“There was body paint. I certainly liked the body paint. I thought that was a great addition to the day. Some of them had umbrellas. It was fun!”