When Kansas Speedway was awarded two NASCAR Sprint Cup races in the same season a couple of years ago, no one was happier than Clint Bowyer, because that meant he would get to return home and race in front of friends and family twice rather than just once a year.
This Sunday's STP 400 will be Bowyer's eighth career Cup race at Kansas Speedway, located just about 100 miles northeast of where he grew up, in Emporia, Kansas. He has recorded one top-five and three top-10 finishes in his previous seven starts in Sprint Cup events at Kansas, but he is still looking for his first win there. He came very close to grabbing his first Sprint Cup victory at his home track in 2007, when he came in a career-best second to Greg Biffle.
Bowyer does have a NASCAR win at Kansas Speedway, but it came in the truck series. The Kansas native led for 124 of the 167 laps last spring in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 (under new title sponsorship this year as the SFP 250) driving a Chevrolet truck owned by Kevin Harvick, Bowyer's Sprint Cup teammate last season at Richard Childress Racing.
"Anytime I go back to Kansas, it's always busy," Bowyer said.
As much as he likes going home, it's one of his more stressful stops during the year, Bowyer says. "It's difficult to go home because of getting pulled in all directions - all the while trying to focus on getting a good run, because that's what really most important to you there," he says. "It's important for me to run well in front of all my fans, friends and family."
At this venue last October, in the fourth race in the Chase for the Cup, Bowyer made a major announcement regarding his future. He announced that he would be leaving Richard Childress Racing, for whom he had driven all six years he had competed in the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR's top racing level. After the 2011 season, Bowyer and his major sponsor, 15.5-hour Energy joined Michael Waltrip Racing. This will be his first race at Kansas in the No. 15 Toyota owned by MWR.
Bowyer posted five Cup wins while he was with Childress and twice finished second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and while there is bound to be some concern in moving to a new team when you have spent you entire NASCAR career with one team, Bowyer says so far the move is working out well.
"Anytime you make a change as big as I did, there's always going to be a concern," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I saw the potential was there, and the best thing is: It's just so gratifying and satisfying to see that potential playing out."
Bowyer has not won yet with MWR, but he does have three top-10 finishes in the first seven Sprint Cup races in 2012.
Despite the decision to change teams, the 32-year-old Emporia native has no regrets about his time driving for Childress. "Richard gave me my opportunity and opened the door for me into this world," he said, "and Michael (Waltrip) is giving me another opportunity to compete at the level I can compete at and have fun doing it."
Bowyer would like nothing better than to be able to leave Kansas City Sunday night with his first Sprint Cup win at the place he calls home in his first try driving the Michael Waltrip Toyota. There will be a lot of fans and family members in the stands on Sunday hoping the same thing.
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