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Bowyer Gets Royal Treatment In Return Home

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 8 2015
Kansas native Clint Bowyer is already having an interesting homecoming. (RacinToday/HHP file photo)

Kansas native Clint Bowyer is already having an interesting homecoming. (RacinToday/HHP file photo)

By Jim Pedley
NASCAR Wire Service

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – So, when is 95 miles per hour scarier than 200 mph? For Clint Bowyer it was when a very, very hard baseball came at him at 95 as he stood in a batter’s box at Kauffman Stadium earlier this week.

Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota Camry and who grew up about sprint-logo-08100 miles away from Kauffman, made his way to that batter’s box courtesy of Kansas Speedway and defending American League champion Kansas City Royals.

And on a night at the old ballpark during which he was just going to be relaxing and munching hot dogs.

“I showed up and suited me up and we went and had batting practice,” Bowyer – a native of Emporia, Kan. who is back in The Heartland to drive inSaturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway – said. “Went to the bullpen and (Jeremy) Guthrie (pitcher, Kansas City Royals) threw some stuff at me. He threw a fastball by me and then a curveball.”

Bowyer found out how civilians feel when he gives them thrill rides in fast cars from time to time at race tracks.

“Man, I’m telling you,” he said, “when you stand in front of that baseball it gives you a whole new appreciation for a professional level of ball like that – holy cow. Here I am, my knees are already buckled and I’m starting to get out of the way and by the time it hits the dirt it’s like 12 feet away from you. It wasn’t even close. Great experience, fun to see the Royals. It’s been a great ride here so far and they ain’t done yet.”

The fun will be just beginning should Bowyer win at the Kansas. And hot fun it could be. Bowyer, whose best finish in Cup at his home track was second back in 2007, said that if he wins on Saturday, he just might break out the flamethrower that was given to him as a gift when his baby was born last September.

With half – or more – of the population of Emporia at the Speedway for the race, Bowyer will have no shortage of people to celebrate with if he wins.

“You always have that pressure and when you go home it’s that much more because all your friends will start calling last Thursday – ‘Are you ready to win Kansas?” Bowyer said. “We’re going to be there Tuesday, are you ready?’ It would be awesome to win here. We’re going to need a hospital if we win here.”

TALLADEGA TOOK EARNHARDT JR. BACK TO MYRTLE

Trophies are nice, large paychecks are better but for Dale Earnhardt Jr., the relief that comes from winning a Sprint Cup Series race may be the biggest perk of all.

On Friday morning at Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. was asked about the outpouring of emotions that resulted from the victory he posted last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

He said the emotion No. 1 was relief but for an interesting reason. The victory likely put him in the year-ending, 10-race, 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship and in doing so, it will allow him to continue his love affair with the actual racing of stock cars.

“You just get back to the core values and just enjoying racing and driving,” the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet said. “You don’t have to worry about points.  You don’t have to worry about when you are going to win and answering questions about when you are going to win.  You don’t have to worry about a speck of doubt within the team or morale within the team. You can just go race and have fun.”

The kind of fun that can get pushed to the sidelines when racing becomes a bill-paying job.

“We used to go race at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) every weekend,” Earnhardt said. “We didn’t care whether we won the track championship or not.  We just loved racing.  We couldn’t wait for our 100 lap feature.  The whole process of getting there, going and sizing your tires, getting the car ready and qualifying, the whole process was so much fun.  You can get right back down to the core of that.  Going through the whole weekend and just enjoying yourself because the pressure of the points, winning, the expectations, all that stuff can sort of zap the enjoyment out of it a little bit.  We had so much fun last year and now we get to do it all over again.”

ROOKIE JONES HAS HAD MORE TIME TO THINK

Technically, Saturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400, will not be Erik Jones’ first in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But emotionally? It kind of is.

Jones’ first Cup drive came at Bristol Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago. But because of the circumstances of that ride – he was put into the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after regular driver Denny Hamlin suffered back spasms early in the race and got out of the car during a rain delay – Jones didn’t get the full-force experience associated with most first races. That is, he didn’t have time to freak out.

“Bristol,” Jones, who was watching the race on TV at home before getting a call from JGR and jumping on the team’s private jet, said Friday, “really and honestly I didn’t have time to think about it so it wasn’t much different” than getting into his car in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series.

Jones will get the full Cup-debut experience this weekend. He has known for weeks that he would be in the seat of the No. 18 JGR Toyota, taking the place of injured Kyle Busch.

While he said, no, he’s not freaking out, Jones did admit that there is an edge to the situation that was not present at Bristol.

“There is a little bit more nerves going into the race weekend,” the 18-year-old from Byron, Mich., said early Friday morning. “I’m not feeling them right now. I’m excited about practice right now honestly and just getting on the track and I’m sure as the race comes around and as we get closer to the start time I’ll be a little bit nervous about getting the green flag and going out and making laps. Right now, feel pretty calm, but there’s definitely more time to think about it.”

Jones finished 26th at Bristol.

He will be racing in both the Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra 250 and the Cup race. Jones will be doing so at a track that he is visiting for the first time ever. Preparation has been by using his eyes and his ears.

“I watched quite a few videos from last year’s race – not only on the Cup side, but the truck side too,” Jones said. “Talked to Kyle (Busch), he won the Truck race here last year and on the Cup side he gave me a few tips. He told me to lean on my teammates for that as well. It will be a fun weekend. It will be a busy weekend – this is probably the busiest day of the weekend here today. I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it. I will learn a lot and it will be a good weekend.”

WINNING MAKES THE HEART GROW STRONGER

Kansas Speedway, site of Saturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400, has to be considered a Jeff Gordon track.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver with four Sprint Cup championship trophies decorating his den won the first two races (2001, 2002) held at the 1.5-mile oval located on the far west side of Kansas City. Then, a year ago, Gordon won for a third time at Kansas.

He also has seven other top-5 finishes and an average finish of 10th in his 18 starts at Kansas.

On Friday, Gordon, who has said 2015 will be his final season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, was asked where the Kansas intermediate sits on his list of favorite venues.

“I would say it’s in the top-five,” Gordon said. “Now Clint Boyer (walks in) on the other hand, he’s somewhere in my top 15 or 20 drivers of all-time (Laughing). I’m certainly very comfortable and enjoy this track. But you’re talking about going against tracks like Indianapolis, which certainly goes to the top of my list, or Bristol or Michigan are ones that stand out. I like a lot of tracks, so it’s hard to grade them in any way. But Kansas is certainly way up there.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 8 2015
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