Clint Bowyer’s primary concern when he arrived at Kansas Speedway on Friday afternoon had nothing to do with the contract extension he signed earlier in the week or the must-win situation he faces in the Monster Energy Cup Series playoff race on Sunday.
It was all about Patrick Mahomes.
“I think the whole world watched, and we all gasped when the guy didn’t get up,” Bowyer said of the Chiefs quarterback who suffered a dislocated knee in Thursday night’s victory at the Denver Broncos. “That’s the guy. You need that guy to get up. That was scary.”
Bowyer, who is from Emporia, Kansas and is a big Chiefs fan, said he texted Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and offered some words of encouragement.
“They’ve got a good plan, have a backup plan, and when you load the team the way they have, it goes to show they can hold their own,” Bowyer said of the Chiefs, 5-2 . “It’s not just Patrick Mahomes. It’s Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
“Those guys have weapons all across the field. They’re all playing hurt. It’s hard to watch those guys when you know they’re hurt. I’ve been there in our sport. You’re not 100 percent. You still have to put your helmet on and go out there and make a living. There are parallels in sports, whether you’re holding a steering wheel or holding a football.”
Bowyer, 40, will be behind the wheel of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford in 2020 after agreeing to a one-year contract extension before arriving in town for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. Typically, Cup drivers sign multi-year deals, usually for three years, as Bowyer did with Stewart-Haas before 2017, but one year was a mutual decision.
NASCAR, which completed a $2 billion merger with International Speedway Corporation on Friday, is planning massive changes for 2021, including a dramatic change in the race cars and schedule, so Bowyer wanted to keep his options open.
“It is good for me,” Bowyer said of the one-year commitment. “In today’s day and age, there’s a lot going on. There are a lot of moving parts in our sport … There are a lot of unknowns. There’s a lot of positive vision and opinions on the direction and everything else.
“At the end of the day, we have to figure that out. I’m a competitor within the sport, and you work for organizations which in turn put on the show. How all that is going to play out after the new car … where you don’t have partners and you’re not in situations anymore where you put those long-term, three-year deals together. I was fine with the one-year deal. And that’s on my end, too.”
Bowyer, who will be making the 501st start of his Cup career, has lined up Rush Truck Center as a major sponsor of his car in 2020. He had mentally prepared himself for not competing next year had a deal not been consummated, but the itch to continue racing was too strong.
“If I didn’t feel like I could compete and win races and be successful, then no, it’s too much work, it’s asking so much out of so many people (to continue),’’ said Bowyer, a winner of 10 Cup races but none since June 10, 2018 at Michigan, a string of 52 starts. “If I didn’t feel I could do this, I darn sure wouldn’t do it.”
Bowyer, who is 24 points behind the cutoff line, will almost have to claim his first career win at Kansas on Sunday in order to advance to the Round of 8.
“We’re in a battle right now,” he said. “It’s playoff time. It’s when you make your money. A lot’s on the line. A lot has to happen. At the end of the day, this is our turn and opportunity to try to stay alive, and it is right here at home, so of course we will do everything we can do to get every stage point and every position.
“This has always been a track that some crazy things happen. Always. Always a points shakeup or a finish different that you didn’t expect all weekend long from practice. There are always some things that trip you up in the race and change things in a big way.”
NASCAR closes merger with ISC
NASCAR announced on Friday that it has successfully closed its acquisition of International Speedway Corporation — owner of Kansas Speedway — and merged its operations into one company.
The new company will remain based in Daytona Beach, Florida and will continue as NASCAR.
In leading the new, combined company, Jim France will serve as chairman and chief executive officer, with Lesa France Kennedy as executive vice chair. Steve Phelps has been appointed president and will oversee all operations of the merged entity.
“This sport has meant so much to our family and we are committed to leading NASCAR through this next chapter of growth,” said France Kennedy, who played a major role in the development of Kansas Speedway, which opened in 2001.
“Combining the two companies will allow us to capture the best aspects of both operations. Our stronger organization will allow us to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities to grow the sport over the next decade plus.”