MARTINSVILLE, Va. – When snow at Martinsville Speedway gave NASCAR a rare day off, Clint Bowyer loaded his car with kids and drove them to North Carolina for a day at the Hall of Fame.
As Bowyer returned to the track for Monday’s rescheduled race, he told his 3-year-old son he wanted to take a picture with him in victory lane.
Cash Bowyer told his father he wanted a checkered flag.
Both father and son got their wish.
Bowyer snapped a 190-race losing streak dating to 2012 with a dominating victory at Martinsville Speedway. Monday’s win continued the strong start to the NASCAR season for Stewart-Haas Racing, which has won four of the first six races to start the year.
“For whatever reason, it felt right driving up here. It’s such a cool place to be able to drive up through the countryside on a two-lane road and think about the race,” Bowyer said. “I told (Cash) this morning, I was like, ‘Dammit, we’ve got to get our picture in victory lane.’ He told me he wanted a checkered flag.
“He’s really proud of that checkered flag!” Clint Bowyer said as the toddler waived the flag, and then leaned his head on his father’s shoulder.
Bowyer then went into the stands to greet the fans who returned to Martinsville two days after a snowstorm pushed all track activity to Monday.
Bowyer’s victory was his first driving for SHR, the team he joined as Tony Stewart’s replacement last year. The move to SHR was supposed to turn Bowyer’s fortunes around, but his struggles continued through his first year in the No. 14 Ford.
He finally figured it out on the short track in Virginia and won for the first time since his victory at Charlotte in October 2012.
Bowyer had led just 145 combined laps the last four years and bettered that Monday with 215 laps led and his first career Martinsville victory.
It was the ninth career victory for Bowyer, but first since he was a legitimate title contender in 2012 before the bottom fell out. He was snared in a cheating scandal with Michael Waltrip Racing, that team never recovered and folded, and Bowyer has been trying to find his footing since.
He thanked Gene Haas and Stewart for bringing him to SHR.
“To give this old dog a fresh chance and fresh blood with a new opportunity – finally to get the 14 in victory lane is just a weight off the shoulders,” Bowyer said. “It’s been a long time. You start to question if you can get it done or not.”
Bowyer began his celebratory burnout before he completed a cool-down lap, and then climbed on the hood of his cars with his arms raised in victory. He jumped into the arms of his SHR crew, and then was met by his son, who had never before seen his father win a Cup race.
Cash Bowyer exchanged high-fives with the SHR crew then sat on top of the winning car. Later, in victory lane, Clint Bowyer hugged the Martinsville signature trophy grandfather clock, chugged several beers, and let his son soak in his first post-race celebration.
“I wanted that damn clock,” Bowyer said. “How are we going to get it home? What do you do? I’m going to ratchet strap it to my wife’s SUV. We’re going to be the Clampetts with our trophy ratchet strapped to the roof of the SUV, but it’s coming home.”
Bowyer is the first driver to notch victories driving a Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford.
Now the Kansas native, a die-hard Jayhawks fan, goes into NASCAR’s off weekend ready to celebrate his victory and KU’s spot in the Final Four. As much as he pleaded with wife, Lorra, the victory party won’t be traveling to San Antonio to watch Kansas play.
“It was a good week to be a Kansan,” he said. “Hey, babe: I mean, this is a positive thing – can I ride this wave of momentum and make it? It’s KU.”
Lorra Bowyer shook her head no.
“Yeah, I’m going to be watching in my basement,” he smiled.
Kyle Busch finished second in a Toyota, and Ryan Blaney, who led 145 laps and won the second stage, was third in a Ford.
Martin Truex Jr., the defending series champion and winner last week in California, was fourth in a Toyota. Bowyer teammate Kevin Harvick, winner of three races this season, was fifth and followed by Joey Logano in another Ford.
Alex Bowman was seventh and AJ Allmendinger eighth in the highest finishes for Chevrolet drivers.
Busch was frustrated after his third runner-up finish of the season.
“I mean, we take solace, sure, but you know, ultimately we’re here to win each and every week,” he said.
The closing laps were eventful for Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, who made contact late in the race. But Harvick insisted he didn’t intentionally brake-check Hamlin at the end.
“He hit me a couple times and I was just trying to make sure I had my car under control,” Harvick said. Doing so meant Harvick slowed in front of Hamlin, and Hamlin crumpled the nose of his car when he ran into the back of Harvick.
“He just got to me and, I think, bumped me three or four times,” Hamlin said. “And then I was just bumping him back and he brake-checked me. I probably should have brake-checked him in the first place.
“They were just some light bumps here, and then slammed on the brakes. So classy.”
Hamlin, who won the first stage, finished 12th.
AJ Allmendinger is a two-time runner-up at Martinsville who expects to do well on the paperclip.
With his eighth-place finish, he felt fairly satisfied.
“These are the places we know that we have a better chance at, and we have to take advantage of it,” Allmendinger said. “So I would say I’m OK with eighth.”
NASCAR is off for Easter and the Cup Series returns to action April 8 at Texas Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson won last year at Texas and then made it two straight the next week with a victory at Bristol. Johnson goes into the break stuck in a career-worst 29-race losing streak.
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