No one could blame Clint Bowyer for being a bit frustrated after last night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, even though he, along with race winner Matt Kenseth, managed to clinch a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Earlier on Saturday, Bowyer had been setting himself up as a potential contender for the victory. After starting 24th, he got past Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead at Lap 126 and then led the next 50 laps.
But it all went by the boards after he made contact with a lapped car and was spun out of the lead on Lap 176. A sliding Bobby Labonte then came along and hit Bowyer from the side on the front stretch.
“I felt like we had a shot at winning and then I got spun out there by a lapper of all things,” said Bowyer. “When I got hit up there, it hit that left-front tire and the car never turned the center as good the rest of the night.”
Although he was able to stay on the lead lap, Bowyer was mired in the field once more, which led to his team playing the pit strategy card to get back track position.
The gambit almost worked out, with the Kansas native coming back into the Top 5 again by Lap 350 and then putting himself in second place for a restart with 50 laps to go. But then more bad luck came along as he ran out of fuel on the last lap.
The final outcome for Bowyer was a 14th-place result – a far cry from what he’d been hoping for. And thus, even with the accomplishment of making the Chase for the fifth time in his career, he still felt unfulfilled.
“[The Chase berth] means a lot, but I’m just really disappointed tonight because we had a really good car,” he said. “Absolutely nothing really went our way all night.”
Juncos Racing continued to bolster its entries in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by signing Carlos Cunha to pilot a third Juncos Pro Mazda entry for 2018. Cunha, who finished third in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the back of seven podium finishes, joins Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis in Juncos’ Pro Mazda lineup for 2018.
Cunha previously tested with the team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October and joined Juncos for the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November, testing cars for both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams.
“It’s great to become a part of Juncos Racing,” said the 18-year-old Cunha. “I am really excited to start the 2018 season with Juncos Racing. This fall we did some testing together and from there I was able to see how focused everyone on the team is and I even felt like I became a part of their family in no time. I am confident we will get great results together next year and I look forward to learning and growing more with the team. It will be a huge pleasure and also a great responsibility to carry the number one on my car, thanks to (2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni) and I hope to deliver it back to the team at the end of the year!”
Team owner Ricardo Juncos added, “We are excited to add Carlos to our Pro Mazda lineup. From the moment we started testing with him in early October, we knew he would be a great fit for our team. Carlos has been very quick in testing and even had an impressive showing in the Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis test back in October. He had a great run this past season in the Pro Mazda series and we are confident he will carry that momentum into the 2018 season.”