Clint Bowyer revels in his third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 26: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers Ford, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #19 Subway Toyota, race during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 26, 2017 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

It was Clint Bowyer’s turn to carry the flag for Stewart-Haas Racing Sunday.  It was somewhat of a turnaround for the team. SHR driver Kurt Busch won the season opening Daytona 500 and Kevin Harvick has been competitive in the four races leading up to Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400.

That all changed Sunday.

Harvick’s troubles started early when he suffered damage in a crash on the opening lap.  He lost laps on several occasions but was never in contention for the win.  He finished 13th. Kurt Busch struggled all race long, hitting the wall at one point; he finished the day 24th one lap down.  Danica Patrick also had issues and finished the race 26th, two laps down.

That left Bowyer. The happy go lucky driver who has needed at least a decent run. The driver who at one time in his career was a championship contender, spent an awful 2016 waiting to take over the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Ford after the retirement of Tony Stewart.

“You know, I love this racetrack,” Bowyer said.  “But, I mean, Kevin is so good here.  You know, one thing that I didn’t see today that we’ve seen in years past is just that rim riding, ride around the outside.  You saw it that first run.  Man, I could get down and kind of split the apron in three and four.  I could see that I was better than them down there.  If I could keep that going throughout the run, you know, I knew that that was going to be an advantage when it comes down to these cautions and everything else, the restarts that we saw at the end.

“Everybody else catches on and figures that out.  But that was something that was a little bit different from practice sessions and everything else.  I mean, I don’t think I left, you know, the fourth and fifth groove in practice the whole weekend.  I think the third groove was the lowest I was in practice, even qualifying.  Then all of a sudden you start the race, and you’re straddling the apron and running on the bottom and everything else.

That’s just what is cool about this racetrack.  You got to be able to adapt, you got to be able to have the car free enough across the center you that you can throttle through the corners, not too tight, and tight enough that the rear doesn’t come out from underneath you.  It’s a constant battle balancing those tires and taking care of those tires, as well.”

Bowyer started his season in the No. 14 on a down note, crashing out of the season opening Daytona 500. Beyond that his best finish was 10th at Las Vegas.

Sunday Bowyer was competitive in the final laps running inside the top five.

“It’s a confidence thing right now, a momentum-builder and we’re getting closer,” Bowyer said.  “Obviously, this is a good track for me.  I wanted to win that damn thing, but to come home with the wild finish and everything that it was, we’ll take it.”

“I’m just having fun again,” he added.  “That’s what it’s about.”

That wild finish was a green-white-checkered flag finish that saw a scramble with eventual race winner Kyle Larson coming out on top, with Bowyer finishing third. Bowyer said he knows a win is coming.

“Hell yeah,” Bowyer said.  “It better be coming.  When you’ve got a team like this that’s organized and as good as they are, it better be.”

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