In a sport sometimes accused of having too many vanilla personalities, Clint Bowyer is a breath of fresh air and something of a throwback, too. And in recent years he’s developed into one of the sport’s top drivers.
Assuming the rains ever stop at Talladega Superspeedway — a questionable premise this weekend — Bowyer surely will be one of the favorites to win the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Already, Bowyer has won twice and scored four top-five finishes in 14 races at the mammoth 2.66-mile superspeedway. He comes into this weekend fifth in the Sprint Cup point standings, and for his career, Bowyer has finished in the top five in points three times.
Last year, Bowyer’s first with Michael Waltrip Racing, he defied the odds — not to mention the conventional wisdom — by finishing second in points and giving the team its best season in its still-young history.
A native of Emporia, Kansas, Bowyer grew up on the dirt tracks of the Midwest and even today comes across as a regular guy from the short tracks and not a self-absorbed star. Bowyer takes his craft seriously, himself less so.
Bowyer walked into the Talladega Media Center Friday afternoon, and when he saw there was no moderator to field questions for his media availability, simply started talking with the reporters and asking himself questions. Lighthearted and funny, Bowyer almost always seems loose and relaxed.
That’s the approach he takes to racing at Talladega, and it’s served him well so far.
“It's a fun situation, but you better make sure that you're having fun with it,” Bowyer said. “If you're miserable the whole time you're here, you're not going to make the right decisions and probably not going to have the success.”
The right approach to racing here is critical, according to Bowyer.
“You've got to have a good attitude and that goes a long ways, just like you said,” Bowyer said when asked about the mental aspect of racing at Talladega. “Attitude is a big part of this, but it goes towards being a student while you're out there, learning as much as you can.”
As for Sunday’s race, Bowyer said he was unsure what to expect, especially with the new Generation-6 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars, which will race here for the first time.
Asked for a prediction on Sunday, Bowyer said, “Only time's going to tell.”
The first goal is simple: Survive the first 490 miles and get in position to win in the last 10.
“You've got to get to the end of these races and if you get caught up in a wreck not at the end through anytime through the race other than the last 50 laps it's your fault,” said Bowyer. “Doesn't matter what caused it or how you got involved with it. If you get wrecked before the end of the race, there's nobody to blame but yourself because you put yourself in that situation.
“That being said, you're always going to be a little cautious and play defense until the end,” Bowyer said. “But, also with this track being wider than Daytona, the end of the race is going to be exciting. You get a little bit excited and antsy to get up into the pack and even 50, 60 laps to go because you're like, 'How am I going to get up there?'”
And at the end, things can get more than a little crazy.
“Here, you can go four- and I've seen — when it goes five-wide you get in a wreck — but we see that quite a bit here, somebody attempting it and that's when it gets this place exciting,” said Bowyer.
He just wants to be there at the finish, contending for the victory.
“Looking forward to hopefully getting to the end and, more importantly, hopefully getting a win,” said Bowyer.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.