NASCAR Barometer: Bowyer Snaps Winless Streak

NASCAR Barometer: Bowyer Snaps Winless Streak

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Clint Bowyer ended a 190-race winless drought by storming to the front of the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Monday after Sunday's itinerary was postponed due to snow. The win marked Bowyer's first since joining Stewart-Haas Racing and the first since 2012. It had been a long time coming for the driver who endured a rough season at the back of the field before assuming the wheel of the No. 14 upon Tony Stewart's retirement, and came as he dominated the final segment of Monday's short-track race. It was another victory for Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing who have now won four of the first six races of the season.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series teams have a week off to figure out how to topple Stewart-Haas before returning to action in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway. The bad news for those playing catch up is that Kevin Harvick is the most recent winner at that track, and he also won earlier this season at the similarly configured Atlanta Motor Speedway. Toyota may be the best-poised manufacturer to give chase, and Kyle Busch will need some luck to open his account.

UPGRADE

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer finally had the afternoon he had been waiting for Monday. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver had a quick car throughout the 500 laps at Martinsville, and gained the needed track position in the final stage to put that speed to good use. Bowyer had been showing signs of progress in the No. 14

Clint Bowyer ended a 190-race winless drought by storming to the front of the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Monday after Sunday's itinerary was postponed due to snow. The win marked Bowyer's first since joining Stewart-Haas Racing and the first since 2012. It had been a long time coming for the driver who endured a rough season at the back of the field before assuming the wheel of the No. 14 upon Tony Stewart's retirement, and came as he dominated the final segment of Monday's short-track race. It was another victory for Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing who have now won four of the first six races of the season.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series teams have a week off to figure out how to topple Stewart-Haas before returning to action in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway. The bad news for those playing catch up is that Kevin Harvick is the most recent winner at that track, and he also won earlier this season at the similarly configured Atlanta Motor Speedway. Toyota may be the best-poised manufacturer to give chase, and Kyle Busch will need some luck to open his account.

UPGRADE

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer finally had the afternoon he had been waiting for Monday. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver had a quick car throughout the 500 laps at Martinsville, and gained the needed track position in the final stage to put that speed to good use. Bowyer had been showing signs of progress in the No. 14 car early in 2018, which made it no surprise that he was running so strongly Monday afternoon. The victory breaks a long winless streak and sets him on a path to the playoffs. Texas could be another great race for him, too. He finished third on Atlanta's sister track earlier this season, and was a consistent top-10 finisher at the circuit before his past few seasons of struggles.

Kyle Busch – Busch started on the front row for Monday's race through owner's points, but he likely would have qualified there anyway. He quickly overtook Martin Truex Jr. for the lead once racing got underway, before being passed by teammate Denny Hamlin. He wasn't the strongest car throughout the race distance but steadily improved his handling to be one of the fastest at the end. Unfortunately, his pace was only good enough for second place, which was his third runner-up finish in the last four races. Busch won twice at Texas, but didn't finish better than 15th in either visit last season. Anything short of a win will simply add to his frustration, despite his incredibly consistent start to the season.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin was another driver on the charge once racing commenced Monday afternoon. He was scything through the traffic early, climbed to second behind Busch in just the first 20 laps and made a pass for the lead just 10 laps later. He then held off Brad Keselowski to claim the first stage win. The next two stages weren't as strong for the No. 11, but it remained a top-five afternoon. Contact with Harvick made the finish to the race more difficult with damage, though. He ended the day sixth. Hamlin won back-to-back Texas races in 2010, but has only four top-10s at the track since. He did finish in the third spot there last fall, though.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney battled Hamlin early in the second stage to take his turn out front on Monday. He went on to lead 121 of the 130 laps in that segment, holding off Bowyer en route to collecting the valuable point bonus. He faded in the final stage but clung to a spot in the top five until the car improved through the run. By the end, he had worked his way back up to claim the third spot. Blaney finished sixth in his last visit to the Texas oval for his only top-10 at the track, but given how quickly he has adapted to life at Penske Racing, fantasy owners should have no concerns selecting him early after the week off.

DOWNGRADE

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse crashed his primary car in practice for last weekend's STP 500, which forced him into a backup car and the back of the field for the start. That mistake was a costly one since it ultimately ended his chances to have a productive weekend. By starting in the back, he was so far behind that by the time the leaders started lapping traffic Stenhouse had only managed to climb three places forward and went down a lap himself. Twelfth was Stenhouse's best Texas finish at Texas, which came there last fall. He has yet to lead a lap at the track, and has an average finish of only 19.9 at the track from 10 career starts.

Aric Almirola – Trouble on his first pit stop ruined Almirola's Martinsville afternoon. He collided with teammate Harvick and also picked up a speeding penalty in just one ill-fated trip to his box. It was a rough afternoon for the team that has been fighting for top-10 finishes every week so far this season. They will have one week to regroup after Monday's nightmare, but it would have been good for them to carry some momentum into the off week. Past results aren't the best indicator of Almirola's potential at Texas. He only has one top-10 finish at the track but has been flying so far this season. Fantasy players will be anxious see how quickly the team recovers from Martinsville, though.

Chase Elliott – The drought continues for Elliott. To make things worse, he underperformed expectations at Martinsville. After a third-place finish at the track last spring and leading more than 100 laps in the fall, he struggled to even run consistently on the lead lap in Monday's delayed race, which was very disappointing from the young driver. However, Texas has been a better venue for the No. 9 driver, which will be welcome after the off week. Elliott hasn't finished outside of the top 10 at the 1.5-mile oval in any of his four Cup career starts. Fantasy players should check his practice and qualifying times before giving him a roster spot for that race, though.

Jimmie Johnson – Fantasy owners expected more on Monday considering he has nine career Martinsville wins. He spent much of Monday's race running right around the top 15, though. After the California top-10, he should have been in store for a better afternoon, too. He was outside of the playoff standings heading into the Martinsville weekend, which is somewhat unfamiliar territory for the team so used to massive success. However, their long back slide just seems to persist. Johnson will look like a top fantasy option again at Texas with seven career victories, but that may only be false hope. Fantasy players should give him a rest until the improvements we thought we saw at California begin to stick, though.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray's 2018 woes extended another week. He sat outside of the top 25 in points heading to Martinsville with a best finish this season of just 16th in the Daytona 500. It has been a big struggle for the team to match the pace of teammate Larson, but bad luck has also caused some of his struggles. McMurray spun and made contact with the wall late in Monday afternoon's race. He did finish seventh in last season's spring race at Texas, but fantasy players shouldn't expect a repeat of that. The team has an extra week to assess their problems and regroup, but a quick top-10 likely is not in the cards after just sneaking into the top 20 at the similar Atlanta Motor Speedway.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

A.J. Allmendinger – Allmendinger's fortunes took a turn for the better Monday at Martinsville after a difficult start to the 2018 season. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver only had one finish in the top 20 before Monday's race, and it was beginning to look like a long haul for the rest of the year. The poor early showings meant he started deep in the field after qualifying was cancelled, but Allmendinger made his way into the top 10 in short order and then stayed put. Four of Allmendinger's last five Texas races resulted in top-20 finishes. Fantasy owners may want to wait to see if last week's run was an anomaly before choosing him, but the Martinsville performance should be a boost of confidence for Allmendinger and his team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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