For NASCAR Drivers, Is Acceptance From Other Pro Athletes Growing?

As Clint Bowyer stood in the corner of the home clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium answering questions from a reporter, Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas went out of his way to give Bowyer a fist bump.

It was a small gesture, but symbolic nevertheless of NASCAR's growing presence and acceptance among athletes from traditional stick-and-ball sports.

After warming up in the clubhouse, Bowyer had just thrown the ceremonial first pitch at Friday night's game between the Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. The driver of the No. 15 Toyota threw a strike to Michael Waltrip Racing general manager Ty Norris and earned an appreciative response from the fans in the stands and the Major Leaguers in the clubhouse.

Bowyer understood the significance of the players' reactions.

"It opens your eyes to how big our sport is and how we're all on equal playing ground," Bowyer said. "They're all asking me, 'So who's fast this weekend? I've got to get my fantasy picks in.'

"They all have that going on in their world, too, so that's pretty cool. We're the same way. When college basketball comes around, football -- we all have our fantasy picks."

Whether it's Kurt Busch at his beloved Chicago Cubs, Regan Smith at the Colorado Rockies, Juan Pablo Montoya at Wrigley Field, Kevin Harvick at Yankee Stadium, entourages of drivers at the NFL's Super Bowl or Denny Hamlin caddying for Masters champion Bubba Watson in the Par-3 Competition at Augusta National, NASCAR stars have ramped up their visibility at major sports events.

Delivering the first pitch is a common theme.

Bowyer's pitch described a lazy arc over the 60 feet from the mound to home plate. A NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car at full song covers the same distance in approximately three hundredths of a second. If Bowyer was nervous at being out of his element on a baseball field, it didn't show.

"I'm glad I threw a couple balls in here," he said. "Once you get out there... it was actually harder practicing back here (in the clubhouse). Once you get out there, it's such a big, wide area that it wasn't bad at all. What's the worst that can happen?"

Bowyer answered his own question.

"There's a lot of eyes on you. That's the problem with the first pitch. Not only do you have the whole entire baseball team that you just met and were talking about throwing that ball out there, and they're watching you now..."

When Bowyer races in the Cup series, millions watch, and he's thankful for it. Bowyer ascended to NASCAR's highest level the hard way, in a family that was committed to racing. Growing up, he missed many of the activities that consumed his classmates.

"Yeah, even in high school -- high school parties, anything that most kids did, I was gone from," Bowyer said. "Prom... I never went to any high school dances, anything like that. It is fun to go back and revisit some of those things.

"Most people that know me probably are like, 'He sure likes to go at it pretty hard,' but that's just because I missed a lot of it when I was younger -- but I didn't miss too much of it."

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