Clint Bowyer was feeling the pressure during his first year at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Bowyer, who won Monday’s race at Martinsville to snap a 190-race winless streak, admitted in his jubilant post-race press conference Monday that he was stressed out in 2017 after replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car and didn’t have a championship-caliber season.
Bowyer missed out on the playoffs and didn’t win a race. He had a few good runs early in the season but wasn’t a consistent threat. Bowyer was in a decent position to make the playoffs on points but his best finish in the final four regular-season races was 19th. That slide meant he fell out of the top 16 after Richmond.
That stress was perhaps most evident at the fall Talladega race, where Bowyer had public and heated discussion with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz before walking away after climbing from his crashed car.
“And the worry, man. That’s when you start panicking, and I’m not going to lie. Everybody knows, last year that was a lot of panic on my behalf, on Mike’s behalf, everybody’s behalf. I mean, we’re expected to perform,” Bowyer said. “We’ve got this opportunity, and we just couldn’t put it all together. I’m telling you, this year it’s ‑‑ racing is fun again. I wish I could show you my text message to Tony Stewart this morning. He told me all the things that I needed to do, and he knows my demeanor and everything else.”
“The normal Tony Stewart text to me, and I told him, don’t worry about it, this [stuff] is fun again, and that’s what I told him, know what I mean? And our cars are good, all four cars are good, and you’re going to have a good shot at winning this race today and having a grandfather clock. But that one is coming to my house.”
Bugarewicz said he questioned himself too. The team finished second at Bristol, Daytona and Sonoma but Bowyer led just 22 laps all season.
“I think even myself at times, I would question myself, am I doing the right things, am I doing the right things to help him, am I making the right calls, am I doing the right things to the cars,” Bugarewicz said.
” … You know, like I said, last year there was some weeks that, man, we really felt that way. We had some really good days going. And other times, you know, not so much. And we’re wondering are we doing things wrong or what’s going on. But this year, you know, coming out of the box, it’s all changed.
Bowyer spent the 2016 season at the now-gone HScott Motorsports. He was absolutely terrible in 2016, thanks to a combination of poor equipment and a little frustration. As he spent his age-36 season at a backmarker team, Bowyer said there were a lot of doubts that crept into his mind.
“Hell yes,” he said. “Yes, it was pretty dark for a few times. That was a year.”
And the resurgence took a little longer than Bowyer was expecting. It’s finally here, however, and Bowyer made sure he celebrated accordingly. He went to grab a beer from a fan after the race and was making sure to enjoy a post-race beer or five or 10 in the hours after the race.
“Going to the hospital,” Boywer said Sunday night. “That would be a safer measure for me right now, jumping in whatever ambulance is tell here and tell them ‑‑ just beg them to take me to the hospital.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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