May 24, 2012; Charlotte, NC USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer during practice for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver tells the wild story of his first-ever victory, talks about on-track retaliation and reveals the type of 'fans' who make him mad.
Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Clint Bowyer, who won the Sonoma race last weekend – his first victory for Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer is seventh in the Sprint Cup Series point standings entering Kentucky.
SBN: What percent of your career races can you remember?
CB: Oh gosh. Pbbbt. To answer your question, I have no idea. I don't even know if I could give you a percent. But I will say it's amazing how the ones you gave away, you always remember those the most.
SBN: This next question is on the 12 Questions this year because of you. A fan asked you at the Daytona fan fest about your first-ever win, and I liked your answer so much that I've been asking the question every week. Would you mind telling the story again?
CB: It was a hell of an ordeal! It was a street stock race in Junction City. We never even thought we were going until the last minute, but we jumped in the truck and took off to Junction City for a Sunday afternoon race. It was hot, dry, slick.
I was running well and the local hero was behind me. With a few laps to go, under caution, he came up behind me and hit me in the left rear and knocked my tire down. Well, (the officials) let me go to the pits, waited for me to change my tire and put me right back up at the front. I beat him, and boy, the fight was on!
The pits were fighting, the grandstands were fighting. Everyone was after the flagger; the flagger locked himself in either the restroom or the concession stand, I think. But it was a wild, wild first win. There I was: Like 15 years old in the middle of all of it, just grinning, loving it.
SBN: Who is a clean driver in NASCAR you really enjoy racing with?
CB: Usually anybody in the top 10. There's a reason they race there. They get it, and they race each other accordingly. If you're better than them early in the race, they're going to let you go; if you're better than them with 10 or 20 to go, you're going to have your hands full and have to earn it. And that's the way it should be.
SBN: And is there anyone who you dread racing and always seems to race you extra hard?
CB: Pretty much anybody outside the top 10. (Laughs)
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
CB: I'm a patient racer. I race the racetrack and try not to lose track position. You know, the restarts are so important anymore, especially at the tracks where it fans out and you have to get up on the wheel and get going, because it's so important to keep that track position. After the first or second lap, you really can't pass anymore.
You've got to be on your game on the restarts, but still, I'm not going to push the envelope by putting somebody in a bad situation – or myself in a bad situation – because I try to be patient and wait to the end when it's time to go.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of people you owe for on-track payback?
CB: Well, it's a fine line. Everybody says, "You owe him! You've got his number!" But it just depends on how bad it is. If it was something that's blatant and just ridiculous, he goes to the top of the list pretty quick. But I don't keep a list. The last time I was really, really taken advantage of, it was Denny Hamlin in the (2010) Nationwide race at Dover.
I learned a long time ago that (retaliation) usually doesn't work out. There was a guy who was holding me up one time in an asphalt race, and I spun him out off of (Turn) 4. I had him out of my way, but after caution, he came up and clobbered me and wiped me out and took me out of the race.
Afterward, I went up to the official and was like, "Hey, man! You can't wreck somebody under caution!" And I'll never forget what he said. He said: "Pretty much tit for tat, the way I see it." Gotcha, loud and clear. I understand.
Anyway, back to that Dover deal (with Hamlin): He spun me out during the race, and under caution I went back and made sure he wasn't going to win, either. That's kind of the way I handle it.
SBN: If you could turn back time and team up with a driver from the past, who would you like to team up with?
CB: You know, I'm a team player. I enjoy being able to help each other, because I believe in that. I believe that more is better and you can get more out of it if you use it how you're supposed to be using it. I think Michael Waltrip Racing does a really good job of using that and that's why you see three cars running well every week. It seemed like in the past, I used to struggle with that a little bit. I really think it's a breath of fresh air to see them work hard and everybody run well.
SBN: OK, but is there any specific driver from the past you'd like to team with?
CB: Yeah, you know, I've always...I think...you know...obviously, somebody good. Surrounding yourself with the best of the best will make you better. So very fortunate to have that. And you know, Mark Martin as a teammate this year...
To answer your question: This is how ADD works, Jeff. I guess I'd just say somebody who was willing to help you along and make you better.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about something?
CB: Oh, man. Hell, I don't know. I try not to put myself in nervous situations.
SBN: You guys have a lot of interactions with fans, and sometimes they can ask awkward questions or put you in uncomfortable situations. Do you have any stories along those lines?
CB: You know, I truly do love the fans. I love interacting with people, being around people and being able to put smiles on somebody's face and change somebody's day. People ought to do more of that.
That being said, there's always that guy who has a whole folder of driver hero cards, and he'll have one of every car you've ever driven. And that would be fine if he had one of those. But that same guy will be standing there in front of a 10-year-old kid that you know hasn't seen you before and maybe even has your shirt on. And the guy will be standing there with 10 of the same cards, and he's selling you that they're all for his extended family.
Nine times out of 10, you know they're going to end up on the Internet or something. And he's crowding a 10-year-old kid out of the way! That pisses me off.
SBN: If you had to choose one of these jobs when you were done racing, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official?
CB: Or I could just be the captain of a boat. You said "retire," right?! (Laughs)
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
CB: Here's what I hate, is when they make us do three or four media obligations instead of just one, and you'll answer the same question. Especially if you had something the week before, like when I wiped out (Jeff) Gordon and (Jimmie) Johnson at Martinsville, I was tired of answering questions about that. I can promise you that! (Laughs)
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next guy. Last week, David Gilliland wanted to know about your nutrition routine leading up to a race and when you start hydrating.
CB: He was asking me that??
SBN: Well, he didn't know who the interview subject was going to be. He was just asking in general.
CB: Oh! I was going to say! I bet he'd change his mind if he knew it was me. If you'd have told him it was me, he probably would have changed the question! (Laughs) But I pretty much always eat the same thing. The biggest thing I worry about is getting an upset stomach, so I try to be pretty consistent with what I eat on race day.
SBN: And can you help me out with a question for the next guy?
CB: You have to be specific, because I could come up with a really good question if I knew who it was. Give me somebody good, and I'll knock it out of the park.
(Editor's note: The next 12 Questions interview isn't set yet, but we'll try to get a question from Clint when we know.)