BROOKLYN, Mich. — Of the first 22 races of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, only four drivers have multiple wins. Those same four drivers have combined to win 18 of those 22 races.
Sixteen of those races have been won by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who have been coined the “Big Three” throughout the industry this season. Sitting on the outside of the Big Three, but looking in, is two-time 2018 winner Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer returns to the site of his second win this season Sunday when he takes the green flag in the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. He won the rain-shortened FireKeepers Casino 400 at MIS in June.
So what does he need to do to become a part of that championship conversation?
“Same thing everybody does — more wins,” Bowyer said during his media availability Friday at MIS. “You have to elevate your game and rise to their capabilities and expectations. Those guys, not only do they have the wins, they are the dominant cars that have led a lot of laps when they get those wins and all the stage points and all that stuff. You have to be able to do that more consistently.”
That’s something that Bowyer’s team has struggled with this year. Despite the wins at Martinsville and Michigan this year, the no. 14 Stewart-Haas Ford has struggled to maintain consistency. While he has two wins and six top fives, he has finished outside the top 10 in 12 of the 22 races this year. His average finish for the season is 11.5.
In Chicagoland last month, Bowyer and his teammate Aric Almirola had two of the strongest cars early in the race. But after speeding on pit road, a comedy of errors trying to serve the penalty put Bowyer three laps down. He managed to claw back to a fifth-place finish, but might have had a chance at victory lane without the mistakes.
There have been moments of brilliance this year. The decision by Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz to take two tires in June at Michigan, putting Bowyer ahead of teammate Kevin Harvick and allowing him to hold off Harvick until the rain came was one of those, leading to the victory. But it needs to be more consistent if the team wants to be considered a championship contender, Bowyer said.
“On our team, that is what we have to do,” he said. “We have touched on that and made some mistakes and know we have to get those mistakes behind us to capitalize on every possible situation. Every stage. Every lap. That is what we have to do better. We have to smooth out the highs and lows.”
The short answer?
“You have to stay on top of the mountain,” Bowyer said. “You can’t fall off the damn mountain. That’s what it boils down to.”
Bowyer was seventh-fastest in the first and only Cup Series practice Friday at MIS. Denny Hamlin had the fastest time, followed by Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano all ahead of Bowyer. The Cup cars are set to qualify at 5:05 p.m. Friday.