Clint Bowyer putting Richmond controversy behind him

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After enduring through last fall’s race manipulation controversy at Richmond International Raceway, Clint Bowyer has appeared to put the matter behind him as he returns to “The Action Track.”

NASCAR may have avoided long-term damage following the incident, but Bowyer – whose spin with seven laps remaining in last September’s Richmond race triggered the ruckus – had to deal with a battered reputation in the immediate aftermath.

His Michael Waltrip Racing team also suffered, as they lost major sponsor NAPA and driver Martin Truex Jr. while downsizing to a two-car operation.

But on the eve of the Toyota Owners 400, Bowyer indicated that he was ready to focus on the weekend at hand.

“I’m looking forward to having another good run here and shaking that off from last year,” he said this morning at RIR. “It was a bad deal and I get it.

“This is one of my favorite race tracks. People all across the country ask you where your favorite tracks are and this is first or second on my list.”

As for whether his reputation has improved since last fall, Bowyer believes that his fans have stuck by him.

“Everybody knows me, I love to have fun in this sport, I appreciate the sport and try to give back every chance I get,” he said. “The fan base, Twitter and things like that — I took a beating for awhile, but we weathered that storm, it’s behind us and it’s a lot of fun to interact with those fans whether it’s good or bad.

“It’s all positive interaction as far as I’m concerned because they are talking about our sport.”

Bowyer’s 2014 season has been in his mind, a “peaks and valleys” sort of year so far. Two weeks ago at Darlington, he finished 12th but sent Kurt Busch into the wall when he hit him from behind during the first of two Green-White-Checkered attempts.

The incident didn’t please Busch at all, and Bowyer showed remorse for it this morning.

“There’s only enough room to go about a car width and a half off of [Darlington’s Turn 2] and we were trying to do it three and four-wide and it just doesn’t work out,” Bowyer said. “[I] obviously felt bad and hated that for him…Just a racing deal at the end of those things – Green-White-Checkered with everyone on different strategies, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Bowyer also noted that he had reached out to Busch but that “you understand the frustration and you put yourself in those shoes – you probably wouldn’t reply back either. It ain’t worth a whole lot.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.