Who knew one spin could have so many people spun out?
Not Clint Bowyer.
It’s been nearly three weeks since Bowyer’s Toyota slowed, then twirled in the closing laps at Richmond International Raceway. Although not choreographed by Bowyer, the aftermath set off an unsuspected chain reaction that knocked his friend and teammate Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase and cost Michael Waltrip Racing $300,000 and, inevitably, longtime sponsor NAPA.
But with a little jolt Friday — from his sponsor 5-Hour Energy reaffirming its commitment to the driver — Bowyer is ready to put Richmond in his rearview mirror and move on with the remainder of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Bowyer, who is 10th in points after finishing second last season, still has one year remaining on his contract. But he credits the support of 5-Hour Energy, which sponsors him in 24 races, for empowering the No. 15 team to be a weekly contender.
“5-Hour is the reason I’m in the situation I’m in anyway,” Bowyer told FOX Sports Friday. “They came and have been the biggest part of me moving from RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and finding a home at MWR and finding a home where we could both share success on and off the racetrack. We’ve built a good program around this, and it will continue to grow and prosper and be good for both of us.
“It’s a great partnership. Everyone knows me. Everyone knows we like to have fun. The older you get, seems like the harder it is to do that, and 5-Hour is a big help in all of that.”
The last few weeks have been tough on Bowyer and his family, but friends and fans have stood by the 34-year-old Emporia, Kan., native. When asked whether he had been bothered by the recent negativity, Bowyer replied not just no but “hell no.”
“The fans are what make this sport what it is,” Bowyer said. “Fans like certain characters and don’t like certain characters. The cool thing about the fans is that they’re so loyal that your true fans will be there no matter what you do.
“Some of the other ones that jump on the hating bandwagon weren’t your real fans anyway. Maybe they followed you on Twitter and thought you were funny. But that’s fine. That’s what makes the sport what it is.”
MWR has a tough road ahead. Replacing the NAPA sponsor to fund three full-time Cup teams in this slow economic climate will not be easy. Still, Bowyer appeared re-energized Friday by 5-Hour’s news. He’s also bolstered by the return of Rob Kauffman from Europe on Thursday and characterizes the MWR co-owner as the organization’s biggest asset.
“He’s a great businessman, a great motivator and a realist,” Bowyer said. “He doesn’t let things boil out of proportion. He keeps his eye on the ball and stays focused. Any time you’re around someone of his stature you realize real quick why they’re successful. They keep digging and stay focused on the task at hand, and right now it’s obviously fixing some of this and just trying to maintain what we have.
“We lost a big part of MWR and a big part of MWR’s history. Everything that has happened at MWR is because of NAPA — and because of sponsors like NAPA. We still have a lot of work to do. Certainly, landing sponsorship is hard to do, but I feel like MWR does a better job than any other company out here of marketing and building a sponsor around a racing program. If anyone can find one, we can.”
The business angle could be a struggle. Bowyer’s No. 15 team has not been fully funded this season. Kauffman’s RK Motors and Toyota have kicked in backing on non-5-Hour races.
Nevertheless, Bowyer has felt an outpouring of support from his fellow competitors.
Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. initially questioned the spin at Richmond, NASCAR’s most popular driver told FOX Sports he’s talked to Bowyer often and stood by Bowyer throughout the ordeal. And even though the No. 15 Toyota finished ninth and 17th in the first two races of the Chase, Earnhardt doesn’t believe Bowyer has lost his swagger.
"It’s almost been as hard to watch Clint go through this as it has been to watch Truex go through it because Clint is a good guy and obviously was just following orders," Earnhardt said Tuesday. "He did some things that were out of character and regrettable, and he feels terrible to have any involvement in it. I know that for a fact. I know that to be genuine.
“It’s been tough watching him go through that process, too, because he’s not that kind of guy to go starting that kind of mess."
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson also came to Bowyer’s defense.
“For Clint, the whole situation is really tough,” Johnson said. “We all know him well and know how positive of a person he is and the charisma he has and that outward excitement he has. We’ll see how far he can fight back, but it’s only going to make him stronger. If you look at the currently point in time, it’s tough. It’s hard on you. But fast forward six months to a year from now, Clint Bowyer and his team are stronger, for sure.”
In the 10 seasons since Bowyer arrived on the NASCAR scene, he has grown into one of the most popular drivers on the Sprint Cup tour. Despite some of the recent criticism spewed at Bowyer, encouragement from Junior and Johnson speaks volumes.
“They’re your peers, and when your peers say positive things about you it gives you a great deal of pride,” Bowyer said. “Those guys are the biggest names in the sport. Certainly, I love hanging out with both of them and appreciate and respect them.”
Bowyer also acknowledged that his relationship with Truex is fine. The teammates had planned to go bow hunting this week in Wyoming, but after Truex injured his wrist at Bristol, it was just Bowyer and Ryan Newman on the trip.
“I was disappointed,” Bowyer said. “He couldn’t pull the bow back — that was a bummer. But Martin is a great teammate. People forget we go way back to the Nationwide days, when we were battling it out for the championship and he was at DEI and I was at RCR. We certainly had a lot of fun — and go back a long way.”
For now, Bowyer’s concentration will turn to the Chase. He’s also looking for his first win of the season. No, Bowyer can’t rewrite the history of Richmond, but the driver who once earned $20,000 a year working in a tire shop back in Kansas can certainly move on from it.
“It’s just part of life,” he said. “Not every day is not a good day. You learn from the bad ones, and it makes you appreciate the good ones. I love this sport. I love the fans. I love being a part of it. I love coming to the racetrack, working with the guys, everyone at MWR. This is what we grew up doing, this is what we love. And I love coming to the racetrack.”