RICHMOND, Va. — Clint Bowyer sounds happy to be back at Richmond International Raceway for tonight's Sprint Cup race.
NASCAR's last visit, in September, threatened Bowyer's reputation when he spun intentionally with seven laps left, causing a jumble in the race standings — and in the Chase for the Championship.
Bowyer went from second in points heading into the Chase to being distracted by a NASCAR investigation that led to fines and suspensions against Michael Waltrip Racing. Teammate Martin Truex was tossed from the Chase and Jeff Gordon was added.
By the time the Chase was two races old, Bowyer was essentially out of contention.
"The fan base, Twitter and things like that — I took a beating for a while, but we weathered the storm, it's behind us and it's a lot of fun to interact with those fans, whether it's good or bad," he said Friday. "It's all positive interaction as far as I'm concerned because they are talking about our sport."
Bowyer, who got married during the week off for Easter, would like to leave them talking again for another reason in tonight's Toyota Owners 400, his third career victory at a favored track.
"Looking back over the years, you always have a track that fits your driving style and your confidence level is more for some reason, and this has always been the case for me," he said. "I'm looking forward to having another good run here and shaking that off from last year."
Winless through eight races, and with two top-10 finishes, Bowyer is 16th in points and eager to get a victory most drivers think will be a free pass into the 16-driver Chase this year.
And, he said, the numbers are more dire than his team's performance. He counts Martinsville, Texas and California as tracks where he was in contention until something happened.
"It's definitely been that kind of year," he said.
Qualifying rained out: Rookie Kyle Larson starts from the pole in tonight's Cup race after a thunderstorm washed out Friday's qualifying. The field was set based on the fastest laps run in the first practice. The top starting spot comes in just the 13th series start for Larson, whose top lap was 126.880 mph on the 0.75-mile track.
RG3 grand marshal: Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will drive the pace car before tonight's race, partly thanks to NASCAR's most popular Redskins fan. The track said Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the ball rolling in late March when he tweeted to Griffin about being grand marshal for the race. Track president Dennis Bickmeier chimed in on Twitter, telling Griffin he would love to have him drive the pace car instead. The following Monday, track officials reached out to the Redskins.