The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes the third and final stop on its three-race West Coast swing Sunday when the green flag drops on the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer has made the most of the opening four races of the 2017 season, climbing to a 13th-place tie in the standings.
Sunday marks Bowyer's first appearance driving his #14 Ford carrying the decals of Rush Truck Centers. The Texas-based company is using its partnership with SHR and Bowyer to reach out to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 21 states.
Bowyer, who grew up working for his father Chris "Pops" Bowyer's tow-truck business in Emporia, Kansas, appreciates the trucking industry as much as any driver in the sport.
"Rush Truck Centers keeps SHR's trucks and transporters in great condition and you could argue those are the most important parts of our race team, and their technology allows us to keep up to date on maintenance with just a click of the computer," he said. "Without them, our cars never get to the racetrack. The employees of Rush Truck Centers are as detail-oriented as we are, and their technicians are the heartbeat of their dealerships. They play a critical role in the success of our race team."
According to Rush Truck Centers, experienced truck technicians have never been more vital. The American Trucking Association estimates the need for an additional 200,000 technical professionals to be developed over the next 10 years to meet service maintenance demands industry-wide.
Concurrently, it is expected that 40 to 50 percent of truck technicians will retire before 2030.
Rush Truck Centers wants to make NASCAR fans aware of these opportunities. Bowyer plans to help by continuing his string of good performances that have kicked off his first year at SHR as three-time champion Tony Stewart's replacement in the #14 Ford.
Sunday is Bowyer's 402nd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and 17th career Cup Series start at Fontana. He owns two top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led 47 laps. His SHR team owns two victories at the track, scored by Stewart in March 2012 and October 2010. Last weekend at Phoenix, Bowyer raced from 17th to 13th in overtime, marking his third consecutive top-13 finish in 2017.
Bowyer said he expects the #14's performances to improve as the 2017 season continues.
"I don't think you have seen our best, yet, but we are tied for 13th in points," Bowyer said. "We are still getting to know each other and these cars. I've been very impressed with the SHR guys. We've had some moments this year when we weren't very good, but we keep working on the car and, at the end of the day, we end up with a pretty good finish."
Bowyer said the end of the West Coast swing provides a significant milestone for the Cup Series teams. He said they are starting to understand their strengths and weaknesses after races on the Daytona restrictor-plate track, 1.5-mile ovals at Atlanta and Las Vegas, the flat mile at Phoenix, and now Fontana's 2-mile track.
The trip has also been a lot of fun. Bowyer returned to North Carolina for a few days after Las Vegas but plans to go snowmobiling in Montana this week before flying to California Thursday.
"I love the West Coast. I think it's beautiful out there," he said. "Some of the prettiest land that we have is out West. I think Vegas does not suck. Phoenix is fun. California is fun. I've got a lot of friends in California. The hardest part about all those races is that, logistically, I can't be gone for three or four weeks. I've got to come home and make sure my wife isn't gonna leave me (laughs). You can't stay out here having fun and racing like that, and keep a family around."
-- Stewart-Haas Racing --