Clint Bowyer needs a strong performance at one of his best tracks

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 19: Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald's Trick. Treat. Win! Chevrolet, talks with Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Dekalb Ford, during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 19, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

With Kyle Busch sitting in the front row, waiting for his turn at the dais in the Martinsville Speedway media center, Clint Bowyer seized on an opening to take a good-natured shot at his fellow Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contender before the drivers hit the track for final practice.

Asked to name his favorite Halloween costume as a child, Bowyer didn’t miss a beat in responding “Kyle Busch. It was pretty damn scary.”

“Ha! It was too easy, man,” Bowyer added. “No, my favorite? I don’t know. It’s all about having fun with your kids and trying to get more candy than the next guy. It’s about the competition. Leave it to a racer to make Halloween a competition, too.”

In Sunday’s First Data 500 at the .526-mile short track (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the competition will turn serious. Bowyer enters the first race in the Playoffs’ Round of 8 three points below the cut line for the Championship 4 and 40 points behind Busch, the series leader.

Of the three tracks in the Round of 8 – Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix – Martinsville is arguably Bowyer’s best, but the driver of the No. 14 Ford, one of four Stewart-Haas Racing entries still alive in the Playoffs, doesn’t think a victory at NASCAR’s shortest Cup track is his only path to the Championship 4.

“I don’t think it is necessarily an absolute must-win,” Bowyer said. “You can’t put that pressure on yourself the first of three races. If you do, you’ll probably go out there desperate and make a mistake. We are not in that situation. We need to take care of business on a track that is typically good for me. That doesn’t mean you’ll go out there and dominate stages or get a race win, but you have to go out there and take care of business on a track that has been good to you over the years and take advantage.

“Yes, a win would be huge. You allow yourself to think that, ‘If I win this thing this weekend, I’m in the dance.’ That’s a cool thought and something to think about and extra incentive… You can’t beat yourself. We have put ourselves in a hole before and I don’t think we can do it again.”

Greg Engle