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Bowyer: Rolex 24 debut 'lot of fun'
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
For Clint Bowyer, it’s a small world after all.
Although Bowyer promised to bring his redneck ways for his debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, ultimately, the Emporia, Kan. native decided to leave his cowboy boots in the motorcoach during his first stint for AF Waltrip Racing.
And it didn’t take the Rolex rookie long to learn a valuable lesson when he entered the pits in the No. 56-GT.
“I guess I hit the kill button or something getting in and obviously couldn’t get going so we lost a lot of track position there,” said Bowyer, who dropped to 26th in the process. “I’m super bummed out about that. The biggest thing is just getting used to the car and getting to know the car. Man, it’s hard to be consistent out there. You can’t ever get a clean lap, and then about the time you do, you’ll go in the chicane, and there’ll be dirt everywhere — you kind of revisit your dirt-track experience — and then you’re back to dodging . . . there’s some debris out there. I think there’s trunk lids — nothing too big. There’s stuff everywhere, to be honest with you.
“Thank God we have spotters out there. We were here to test and didn’t have any spotters. They’re lifesavers, with the DP cars coming on. That’s my biggest worry being here, just staying out of the way and not ruining one of those DP car’s day, especially costing them a good finish.”
Bowyer took over for his teammate Rui Aguas two hours and 19 minutes into the race. He was impressed with the Portuguese driver, who competes for AF Waltrip in the FIA World Endurance Championship tour along with Michael Waltrip Racing co-owners Waltrip and Rob Kaufmann.
“He did a great job early,” Bowyer said of Aguas after his 90-minute turn. “He was super fast in the car, drove up through the field. It was neat to watch that, and, unfortunately, I put us back to 12th or something and just kind of maintained there.
NASCAR on FOX brings live coverage of the Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. The green flag drops at 1 p.m. ET, with coverage on FOX beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.
“I don’t know what you do now. I guess we have our five-hour break or something and twiddle our thumbs. What time is it anyway? 7:30? We’re almost to halfway, right? Who came up with the idea of a 24-hour race anyway?”
“Bill France Sr.,” replied GrandAm Series flack Herb Branham.
“That’s pretty cool then,” Bowyer exclaimed. “It’s a lot of fun. The cars are a lot of fun to drive. They’re lightweight . . . They’re pretty loose. They’re light on their feet getting in (into the corners). You can downshift it too quick and kind get yourself in trouble, kind of like wheel-hopping our cars . . .
“I’ve gotten myself in trouble a few times. I actually had to shoot through the chicane and had to have a conversation with myself and make me calm down a little bit. Then I was slow, and I had to have another conversation with myself to pick it back up. The guys that talk to you (on the radio), I can’t understand 'em, other than ‘Pit!’ You can understand ‘Pit’ and that’s pretty much it. I asked them for lap times, and you might as well just carry on a conversation with yourself.”
With Italian engineers overseeing the adjustments on the Ferrari 458 RK (Rob Kaufmann) Motors, Bowyer has moments when his instructions are lost in translation. Waltrip believes his concern in the team forces him to focus on deciphering the information to a greater degree.
“You just have to have an interest in what they’re talking about,” Waltrip said. “I think Clint can do it overnight, he’s amazing. It’s a lot of fun.”
For Bowyer, who finished second in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series last year, fun is something that seems to follow the driver. Like many of NASCAR’s top performers who have ventured into sports cars before him, Bowyer quickly acclimated to the relaxed environment around the paddock and enjoyed the festivities on the grid.
“There was body paint,” Bowyer said. “I certainly liked the body paint. I thought that was a great addition to the day. Some of them had umbrellas. It was fun!
“It’s really, really cool, the atmosphere and the excitement in the air before the race, the pre-race ceremony, the starting grid. There’s definitely, in my opinion, some room to improve with our sport, after what I saw. But, nonetheless, this is their biggest race of the year. I think our Daytona 500 is exactly like that, with the thrill and the excitement in the air like that, especially down on the starting grid. I guess this is their biggest race of the year as well. It’s kind of comparable.”
Bowyer grew up driving on dirt ovals in the Midwest but has become quite proficient on road courses. Still, the combination of racing on a road course along with racing under the lights might take a while to adjust to since Bowyer is accustomed to having decals instead of real headlights on his stock car.
“The headlights, as you can see right there on the TV, those headlights come at you, and you can’t hardly see through the rear-view mirror, and then they get real big real quick,” Bowyer said. “That’s probably our biggest concern. Those lights get large.”
If Bowyer is lucky, he should only have to endure one more tour under the lights. In the meantime, he was off to refuel as Kauffman, Waltrip and Aguas took turns in the car.
As for napping before his return, Bowyer said, “No. I don’t think so. The guys on the pit box, they don’t sleep. I was asking them, ‘What stint do you guys take a break?’ They don’t. They have an espresso machine. I was going to try that out. I’ve got a case of 5-Hour, and we’ll charge on.”
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