KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — One of the first things Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach did when he learned their game against Cincinnati had been moved to Sunday night was pick up his phone and dial Clint Bowyer.
Veach had met the Stewart-Haas Racing driver when he joined other members of the Chiefs for a visit to Kansas Speedway in May. The two hit it off, keeping in touch throughout the summer and into the fall, and built a friendship based on mutual passions: racing and football.
“I’ve always been a car guy and really enjoyed watching NASCAR races,” Veach told The Associated Press. “We’ve texted here and there, kept up our relationship, and with him being a Kansas guy I have been trying to get him out here to a game this season.”
The time change to accommodate television provided the perfect opportunity.
Now, Bowyer has a secondary reason to be fastest to the finish line in Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway. The primary one? Winning would assure him a spot in the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs, and even a strong run should be enough to make the cutoff for the top eight to advance.
But kickoff is only a couple hours after the race is expected to end — assuming no weather issues or other delays — and Bowyer will be pushing it join Veach at the game in time.
“He’s been telling me how good they are and I’ve been telling him how excited I am,” Bowyer said, “and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m getting to a game. Just be patient with me.’ And he called and said the game was moved and my butt better be there. I’ve got a ticket, so my butt will be there.”
It’s another demonstration of the everyman love affair Bowyer has with his home state.
He was raised in Emporia, a couple hours south of Kansas City, and once raced dirt late models at nearby Lakeside Speedway. When he struck it big in NASCAR, Bowyer returned to Emporia to purchase the dealership where he once worked as a lot attendant, dent specialist and detailer.
He’s donated millions of dollars to build a community center. He’s purchased computers for the public library. He’s paid for scoreboards at the aquatic center, playgrounds in a nearby community hit by a tornado, shoes for Big Brothers-Big Sisters and backpacks for kids in need.
Then there is Bowyer’s fandom for all things Kansas City sports. He’s close friends with Royals manager Ned Yost, himself a longtime NASCAR fan and friend of the late Dale Earnhardt, and has chilled out in the clubhouse and thrown out the first pitch at Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s always fun to go home. It’s always busy to go home,” Bowyer said. “Going back to Kansas Speedway, you have so many people who have made a difference and got you where you are. You owe it to them, just like you did when they were helping you on that race car, to go see them, to see how they are doing, to see their kids now. Things have changed a lot since I’ve moved away.”
Things have changed a lot this season, too.
Bowyer failed to qualify for the playoffs or was knocked out before the fall race at Kansas the past four years. But with the backing of the hottest team in NASCAR, he arrives this weekend seventh in the standings and firmly in the championship hunt for the first time since 2012.
While he loves everything about Kansas, the track itself has hardly loved him back. Bowyer has made 20 career starts in the Cup Series and led laps just three times. He has one top-10 run in the past five years, and that was a ninth-place finish in the spring race last year.
His career-best of second came more than a decade ago for Richard Childress Racing.
“I feel like we have a shot at competing for the championship when it comes down to Homestead,” he said, “but we have to be solid this weekend on my home track. Typically the mile-and-a-halfs are not my favorite tracks. I hate to say that because Kansas is my home track. I need a solid weekend to take care of business and move on to the round of eight.”
It would also make palling around with Veach at Arrowhead Stadium a bit more fun.
“I was really amazed, as big of a deal as he is in the NFL and that sport, how big of a race fan he was,” Bowyer said. “I mean, he knew everything — stats, drivers, literally everything. He was very, very in-tune with what’s going on, and anyway he’s a stat guy in the NFL, so it’s no surprise that he was definitely on his game as far as our sport goes, so we’ve been staying in touch.”
Bowyer spent time last spring showing Veach his hauler, checking out his bus and giving him the Chiefs’ GM a behind-the-scenes look at life in NASCAR. Now, Veach is eager to return the favor.
“Obviously he’s got a big race on Sunday to think about first,” he said. “I’ll be rooting for him. And then after the race, I’ll be excited to have him out at Arrowhead cheering us on.”