Clint Bowyer said it best on Wednesday afternoon as he donned a Stewart-Haas Racing shirt in public for the first time. Shortly after Tony Stewart announced he would retire after 2016 and Bowyer would take over the No. 14 machine, Bowyer told reporters, “This is a champion’s seat that I’m filling.”
Sure, he could be talking about the immense expectations that come along with taking over for a three-time champion. He might be alluding to the fact that he’s simply in shock this opportunity came about. But after the last few years for Bowyer with the soon to be defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, he couldn’t have asked for better equipment or a more dominant team to land with for the future.
“That to me is what this world is all about is opportunities, and certainly with that opportunity, the unfortunate thing is you lose one of the boys, one of the guys that I’ve always had a lot of fun with, enjoyed,” Bowyer said. “Whether it was racing alongside of him or beating him, banging on him and bickering about it afterwards, I always enjoyed the fact that Tony Stewart’s character was on the race track.”
“That being said, damn, I’m glad that you decided to retire and open this seat up for me,” Bowyer jokingly said to Stewart, “but you know, it’s just all about people, it’s all about culture for me, and I think the fit factor couldn’t be any better.”
Stewart-Haas Racing’s culture is a winning one. The team has thrived under Stewart’s leadership with two championships in the last four years and fighting for another one in 2015. With two drivers making the Chase in 2015, there’s no reason to believe three cars can compete for a championship by 2017.
With the backing of Gene Haas and Stewart, SHR has turned around the careers of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick over the last few seasons. Busch went from bouncing around with Phoenix Racing to Furniture Row Racing to winning three races in a two-year span. Harvick certainly didn’t need any help with his career, but he won a title with SHR in his first year—so that’s progress, right?
Getting that chance would be a complete 180 after the season Bowyer has endured in 2015.
“What an unbelievable opportunity, just to think how my year started,” Bowyer said. “You know, you thought you were set, you thought you were good, then all of a sudden you’re not, then all of a sudden that led to a door opening in one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport.”
Bowyer won’t immediately jump into that great situation, but it can’t come soon enough. The 36-year-old driver is expected to announce he’ll sign with HScott Motorsports for 2016 this weekend at Dover. He’ll drive the No. 51 car next season, but should make a push for a title when he gets behind the wheel of the No. 14 machine afterward.
“Do you ever hear that term when you fall in a pile of cow manure and come out smelling like roses?” Bowyer said. “That’s exactly what this is for me.”