Sunday, April 19, 2020

iRACING: Clint Bowyer goes to the digital booth after engine failure at Richmond

SCREENSHOT: @StewartHaasRcng
Clint Bowyer finished last in Sunday’s fourth round of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational, the Toyota Owners 150 at the Richmond Raceway, when his #14 Peak Antifreeze Ford lost the engine after 57 of 154 laps.

Earlier this year, Bowyer started his fourth season with Stewart-Haas Racing since he took over the ride of a retiring Tony Stewart. Though unable to win a race in 2019, he took a 9th-place finish in points, his best overall championship ranking since 2013. Prior to the suspension of the 2020 season, Bowyer appeared to pick up where he left off. Ironically, his worst finish of the season came at Fontana, where he won just the fourth pole of his career, only to cut a tire in the middle stages. He recovered at Phoenix for a season-best 5th, and climbed to 13th in points.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Bowyer has further developed his presence in broadcasting as the “in-race reporter” for the iRacing Pro Invitational. Stationed across the studio from FOX Sports’ Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon, Bowyer has provided entertaining commentary, though at the cost of his finishes. Even with Fast Repairs, Bowyer’s three previous sim racing finishes were a 16th at Homestead, then 11th at both Texas and Bristol. The Bristol race saw Bowyer tangle with Bubba Wallace in the early laps. With no Fast Repairs remaining after an earlier incident, Wallace had no choice but to angrily quit the race. On Sunday, driving a Billy Hagan throwback on his #43 Sunoco Chevrolet, Wallace recovered nicely from the slowest completed lap in qualifying - good enough for 28th - to finish 9th.

Richmond marked the first time the Fast Repair option would not be available to any of the 30 starters. This perhaps foreshadowed Sunday’s result as Richmond has been hit-or-miss for Bowyer in actual Cup Series racing. While he scored a wild victory on May 3, 2008 – a race which was re-broadcast on NASCAR’s YouTube channel in the lead-up to Sunday’s event - the track also saw him score his first Cup Series last-place finish on April 26, 2014.

Bowyer took the 30th and final starting spot after an ill-timed bathroom break during qualifying. He was joined in the final row by Christopher Bell, whose #95 Rheem Toyota didn’t complete a lap after a problem with Bell’s rig. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Daniel Suarez, who both transferred into the main event after Sunday morning’s qualifier, started a strong 4th and 6th, respectively. In actual Cup Series racing, a race at Richmond hadn’t seen only 30 starters since September 13, 1987.

When the race started, Bowyer and Bell raced side-by-side into the first corner. Bell drew ahead heading into the third corner, keeping the #14 in last place. Bowyer then passed Ty Dillon’s #13 GEICO Chevrolet on Lap 2, and the younger Dillon soon fell six seconds off the lead. On Lap 7, Dillon dropped Chase Elliott to last in the #9 NAPA Chevrolet, but Elliott moved past him once more on Lap 12. By the 23rd circuit, Dillon was 21.116 seconds back of the lead.

Next to join the last-place battle was Chris Buescher, whose #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford had a steering box issue heading into Turn 3. With the wheels cut hard to the right for the left-hand turn, Buescher spun and drew the caution flag. He fell to last by Lap 30, when he was three laps down to the leaders. On the restart, Bowyer was then collected in a multi-car pileup on the backstretch. Shortly after Alex Bowman and Ross Chastain spun into the inside wall, Bowyer was seen spinning up the track exiting Turn 4, slamming head-on into the outside wall. Despite his lack of a Fast Repair, Bowyer continued onward after lengthy repairs with the front valence missing from his car. On Lap 40, Bowyer took last from Buescher after the #14 fell a second lap down.

Joey Logano then dropped down the rankings after he triggered a multi-car pileup entering the first corner. Logano came up on the #1 GearWrench Chevrolet of Kurt Busch and turned him. Busch’s car spun and threw both Logano and the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet of Austin Dillon into the outside wall. Both drivers spent several laps for repairs. Logano lost 19 laps while Dillon lost 53, but it was Logano who was the first to take last from Bowyer.

On Lap 60, with Dillon still on pit road, Bowyer’s car suddenly trailed smoke coming off Turn 4 and ran slow down the inside lane. Bowyer announced his engine had let go, and he was done for the day. He took last from the still-running Logano around 73 laps to go, and remained in that spot to the finish.

Bowyer joined Joy and Gordon for the play-by-play to the finish, watching as a series of accidents changed the rest of the Bottom Five. Austin Dillon climbed his way to 28th, passing Kevin Harvick, who lost 55 laps during pit road repairs of his own. Matt DiBenedetto took 27th, parked by iRacing after he retaliated against polesitter Ryan Preece for contact in an earlier crash. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Jimmie Johnson, his #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet collected in a late-race accident in Turn 3. Logano managed to just climb out of the Bottom Five to take 25th.

*Car #14 has never finished last in a Cup Series race at Richmond.

30) #14-Clint Bowyer / 57 laps / engine
29) #4-Kevin Harvick / 99 laps / running
28) #3-Austin Dillon / 101 laps / running
27) #21-Matt DiBenedetto / 112 laps / parked
26) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 123 laps / crash


Wes Kent said...

How does an engine blow in a virtual race?

Brock Beard said...

I'm not sure, but it appears poor Clint found a way.