Clint Bowyer returned to the seat of the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet Impala at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Saturday for the first time since the NASCAR Nationwide Series season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February. Running the same chassis that the Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) team posted a second-place finish with at Daytona, Bowyer and the Rheem team were confident the results would be the same, or even better at the Alabama superspeedway.
The Kansas native put the No. 33 machine on the outside pole for the start of the 117-lap contest. As the field roared to life, Bowyer shifted between the lead and track position among the top-five until the first caution flag of the day waved at lap 22. Bowyer and the Rheem team opted to come down pit road for four fresh tires and fuel during the caution period, taking the lap 27 restart from the eighth position.
Back under green-flag conditions, the 43-car field went three and four wide down the backstretch and into turns three and four. As the leader brought the field to lap 29, the yellow flag waved for the second time. Running in 13th place at the time of caution, crew chief David Hyder made the call for Bowyer to stay on track in an effort improve their track position for the restart.
NASCAR brought the race back to green at lap 33. Bowyer was quickly shuffled out of the top 15 and in to the 23rd position, running in the second pack of competitors. By the third caution period at lap 44, the driver had worked his way up to the 17th position. The team, concerned about front-end damage sustained from the two-car draft racing, brought the No. 33 Chevrolet to pit road to ensure no repairs were needed. The KHI team sent Bowyer back on track to take the lap 49 restart from the 24th position.
As the race returned to full speed, Bowyer fought to find a drafting partner to help him return to the lead pack of cars. While pushing towards the top 20, the day’s fourth caution flag waved at lap 55. The team opted to stay on track, and at lap 60, restarted from 17th.
Not long after the field resumed green-flag racing, an accident slowed the field for a fifth time at lap 68. NASCAR brought out the red flag and halted the cars to ensure the track was clear of all debris. After an almost ten minute red-flag period, the race was brought back to yellow conditions. Bowyer drove his vehicle to pit road for four tires and fuel.
The team restarted from the 15th position at lap 75, and in just two laps, with the help of Kyle Busch as a drafting partner, Bowyer shot through the field to the second position. At lap 83, the yellow flag flew for the sixth time. Bowyer made a quick pit stop for fuel only and took the lap 87 restart from 12th-place.
In the same lap the field returned to green, a big accident involving over 20 cars erupted on the backstretch, collecting Bowyer and the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet. The team called the driver to pit road to assess the right-front and left-rear damage. The KHI crew made quick repairs and sent Bowyer back to rejoin the field before going back to green.
With 26 laps remaining, green-flag racing resumed. Bowyer fought to overcome the damage sustained in the accident, but was forced to pit road for additional repairs through the course of the final laps. It took two green-white-checkered attempts for the race to come to a close, and when the checkered flag waved, the No. 33 Chevrolet came across the finish line in the 22nd position.
The No. 33 KHI team heads to the series’ next stop at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway fourth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Owner’s Point Standings, 20 points behind the leader. Tune into ESPN on Saturday, April 23 at 2:00 p.m. EST and 2:30 p.m. on MRN for the Nashville 300.