Being a past winner at Sonoma Raceway, you’d think there’d be added pressure to repeat the previous success. However for the driver of the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota, the pressure doesn’t feel any different than other weekend.
However, Clint Bowyer also has a way of dealing with it – he and his Michael Waltrip Racing team treat the weekend as a vacation.
“The crew guys get to go out. We don’t have our busses,” Bowyer commented. “We’re staying with everybody amongst the people, having fun with everybody and really embracing what Sonoma is all about.”
The theory has played out well for MWR over recent seasons as Bowyer won the event in 2012, while Martin Truex Jr. scored the victory last year.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Bowyer said of the team’s success. “Looking at last year, we were really fast, again just going back to the circumstances, we had a car capable of winning, the way the cautions fell we kept racing up to the lead or second hunting the leaders down and the caution would come out and I’d restart 10th again and have to pass through them and be patient. They’re just so far ahead of you, I wasn’t surprised that Martin (Truex Jr.) won that race. Obviously we had the same setup in and same setup that won.
“The biggest thing is, that setup — things evolve so much with this new rule package that setup won’t even qualify for this weekend’s race. The very setup that won the last two races just won’t — it won’t compete. So, I do dig that about this sport. You have to be able to keep up with the times and keep pushing forward and figuring out ways to keep forward driving in the cars and then keep turning it.”
As a result, Friday’s practice was of ultra important to tweak on the set-up as to win “everything has to go right” and with tight technical corners and needing to be patient, it’s not made easy.
“The restarts are completely insane,” Bowyer added. “Everything has to go right. Everybody sees that on these road courses, but you really do have the reigns, you have to make the right decisions out there and if you’ve got a car capable of winning, by all means put it in position to win. If you don’t, you go out there and over charge corners, wheel hop and make a dumb mistake that takes your team out of contention for a good finish.”
Bower also recognizes the importance of success this weekend as if he can win, he can put his team into the Chase and not have to worry from here to the first Chase event about anything. Bowyer notes that this race is an “opportunity” for a mid-pack driver to step it up and possibly steal a spot in the top 16 – making the race more important and “dangerous”.
“You’ve got to weigh out those options as you go because that set of circumstances changes so many times throughout this race,” Bowyer explained. “Strategy and everything else. You’ve just got to see where you’re at and take it as it comes and try to make the best decisions you can and have good speed in your race car, and by all means win this damn race, but cover your back and make sure that you take care of business at the end too to get a good finish no matter what.”
Leaving the strategy up to crew chief Brian Pattie, Bowyer says that he is focused on not getting wiped out, crashing himself or making any mistakes to optimize that opportunity. The focus will begin with qualifying today as NASCAR instills the new two session qualifying rules, rather than the group qualifying format that was used in past seasons.
“It’s going to be a difficult situation to make sure that you’re courteous to the other drivers,” Bowyer points out. “Get your lap in and then get out of the way. That’s the single biggest thing that I think could potentially be a problem here is trying to get back around to where you’re getting off the race track and not messing somebody’s lap up. Certainly would be a bummer to have that happen because everybody knows with your tires you’ve only got a certain amount of tires here.”