It wasn’t the most ideal return to NASCAR Nationwide Series competition for Clint Bowyer.
After replacing an ill Elliott Sadler during qualifying for today’s O’Reilly Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway, Bowyer climbed into Sadler’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota again during the first caution of the 300-mile race.
Crew members pulled Sadler out of the car and as they went to work strapping Bowyer in, cameras caught Sadler move slowly over the inside pit wall before sitting atop it.
He still had his helmet on, but there was no need to see his face in order to realize that he was nowhere near ready to go the full distance.
And so, Bowyer entered the fray, making his first appearance in the NNS since finishing 26th at Daytona in the summer of 2012. But the Kansas native charged from the back of the pack up into the Top 5 in the second half of the race before settling for a ninth-place finish.
“[Sadler’s] done a lot for me in my career, and he’s been a good friend over the years,” Bowyer told ESPN. “I hate to see him sick like that. He was looking pretty rough.
“But the OneMain Toyota was really good. I had a lot of fun out there, but we just got way, way too loose there those last two runs.”
Since Sadler was able to start the race, he gets awarded full points for the result. So, thanks in large part to Bowyer, Sadler was able to maintain his fourth-place standing in the NNS championship at 68 points behind leader Chase Elliott.
Bowyer made steady progress upon entering the race and was up in the Top 15 at a caution near Lap 50. Continued performance and solid pit work eventually enabled Bowyer to get among the leaders; a particularly fruitful stop under a Lap 127 caution helped him jump from seventh to fourth.
But as he alluded to in his post-race comments, a loose condition set in on the No. 11 and caused him to fall out of the Top 10. However, on his final stop of the day, Bowyer got a track bar adjustment as part of his service.
That appeared to be just the ticket for Bowyer, who subsequently made a late run over the final 20-25 laps to get to ninth.