CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer always has high expectations for his dirt late model program and this year was no exception.
With two champions — Josh Richards and Don O’Neal — at the wheel of his two dirt late models in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, Bowyer had good reason to have high expectations.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned. O’Neal suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for several weeks, ending his hopes of a strong season at the wheel of the No. 5 DEKALB entry. He did, however, bank $20,000 for a win in the Pittsburgher 100 at Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway following his return from injury.
“This year was certainly frustrating,” Bowyer admitted. “Anytime you set out on a series like we do with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, you set out to win races and ultimately win the championship at the end of the year. So anytime you don’t do that, you didn’t meet your goal.
“We had good runs. The biggest thing was a lot of things that were out of our control. Don getting hurt certainly put a damper in our program. But we got through it. I’m proud of my guys for making the most out of the situations.”
Richards, on the other hand, had a solid season in his first year driving for Bowyer. He collected three Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victories, including a $30,000 victory in the Hillbilly Hundred at West Virginia’s Tyler County Speedway.
He finished third in the series standings, but he wasn’t in the same league as series champion Jonathan Davenport.
“Josh finished third in points. Obviously, that’s not where we wanted to be, but it’s not 10th either,” Bowyer said. “We definitely have stuff to build on.”
Bowyer, who was at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Wednesday for a media event previewing the Can-Am World Finals later this week, said he doesn’t know if Richards and O’Neal will be back in his dirt late models next year.
“I hope so,” Bowyer said when asked if Richards and O’Neal would return in 2020. “We’re working on a lot of things. I’ve been in this deal a long time. You can’t do this without partners. No different on the Cup side. Every single year things get later and later and later. I don’t like that.
“Just two weeks ago I signed for next year (in the Cup Series with Stewart-Haas Racing). The last time I signed a contract it was a year and a half in advance. This year it was three races to the end of the season and I just got the deal done. Now it’s time to focus on everything else.
“I told them boys a long time ago, don’t ever worry about a thing until you look over and see me not in that Cup car. Then all of a sudden, we’ve got to figure a lot of stuff out. That’s the first piece of the puzzle you have to get on table and all the rest of it seems to come together quite well.”
Bowyer, a native of Kansas who started his career racing on dirt before landing an opportunity to drive for Richard Childress Racing in 2004, is thankful he can continue to be involved in dirt racing and give back to the grassroots level of the sport.
“I’m proud to have late models and be able to give back to something that has given so much to me,” Bowyer said. “That was my dream man. It was my dream to have semi and roll up and down the road with your buddies and roll into a race track and know you can kick their ass and then go out there and do it because of your hard work and determination to work harder than the next guy.
“Somehow, some crazy way, I never got the chance to do that in a late model,” Bowyer continued. “I never dreamed of going to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Maybe, possibly, the Charlotte Dirt Track if I could ever get over there halfway across the country. But literally, just making a living racing was the extent of my dream and I was perfectly satisfied chasing after that.
“So to be able to have late models and race at this level is very important to me.”