Bowyer long prepped for new Cup success, best start at Texas

Clint Bowyer qualifies for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series auto race on Friday, March 17, 2017, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

By STEPHEN

HAWKINS

AP Sports Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas — Clint Bowyer had long prepared to enjoy this season, knowing the opportunity waiting for him to be successful again in the NASCAR Cup Series.

That certainly helped Bowyer get through the worst season in his career with a now-shuttered team.

“Last year is just last year. I think I was prepared to enjoy this year even last year,” said Bowyer, now driving the No. 14 Stewart-Haas car in the former seat of one of the team’s owners.

“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, whether it was my first opportunity in this sport or my last.”

Bowyer will start third Sunday in Texas. His best qualifying effort since succeeding three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart comes after consecutive finishes in the top seven at Fontana and Martinsville. Bowyer is eighth in season points through six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

Last year with HScott Motorsports on a stopgap deal to keep racing, Bowyer was 27th in points and without a top-five finish.

That was by far the worst of 11 full Cup seasons for the driver who began his career with Richard Childress Racing (2005-11) and then went to Michael Waltrip Racing (2012-15).

Now he’s teammates with former Cup champions Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, and popular driver Danica Patrick.

“You don’t put enough emphasis on the impact a good teammate can have on you. Drivers capable of winning races and championships,” Bowyer said.

“I have two championship-winning drivers as teammates. Danica, everything she brings for our entire sport, let alone the company. This is the opportunity you are giddy about no matter where you are at in your career.”

Harvick is the polesitter at the 1 1/2-mile Texas track that earlier this year was completely repaved and reconfigured in Turns 1 and 2.

Ford drivers took the top five spots in qualifying, with Ryan Blaney set to start on the front row with Harvick. Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski round out the top five behind Bowyer.

Bowyer, the kind of big personality that is good for NASCAR, is now 37. His hasn’t won since three victories in 2012, when he was the season runner-up to Brad Keselowski.

“It’s definitely good to see him back,” said Martin Truex Jr., his former MWR teammate.

“I know what it’s like to have those tough years and try to battle through it. People kind of write you off, think you forget how to drive. It’s cool to see him competitive again. … I’m sure it’s not the last we see of old Bowyer this year.”

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