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I think I may have sold Clint Bowyer short.

The inspiration of my two stock car racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, was my realization, in the winter of 2016-17, that the racers of today don’t have much in common with those who were everywhere in the early 1990s, when I first found a slot in the media gypsy troupe.

Barrie Jarman became my intriguing hybrid, a kid from the wrong side of the South Carolina Upstate tracks, typical in some ways with his generation but a throwback to the heroes of yore.

The folk heroes – Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader, Davey Allison, etc. – were everywhere back then. Now, they’re just cardboard cutouts, trying to build a “brand.” I thought Tony Stewart was the last buffalo on the plains.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I overlooked Bowyer, the fun-loving Kansan, because he wasn’t winning races at the time.

Last Sunday’s victory in the rain-shortened race at Michigan Speedway was his second. In a year of domination by the few, the proficient, the Kevin Harvicks and the Kyle Busches, Bowyer became the season’s fourth multiple-race winner. (Martin Truex Jr. also has two.)

Bowyer has an honest-to-gosh personality that he has managed not to hide from the general public. He likes to party. He doesn’t hide his enjoyment of beer. Both of his victories – in Martinsville, Va., and Brooklyn, Mich. – have occurred before open dates, making it all the better to toast victory with his pals for an extended period of time. Bowyer is both good and good for you. His crew chief is named Mike Bugarewicz, whose name is good for spelling.

NASCAR geniuses actually began the season anticipating that, in lieu of all the stars who have faded into management and TV booths, the sport would be taken over by young drivers who, by and large, act and look younger than they are. They are not ready for stardom. They are also not ready legally for a bar stool and a frosty draught. It’s a little like watching The Wonder Years, except that Kevin Arnold never even tried to win the Daytona 500.

Harvick and Busch are great, and, what’s more, they have personalities. It’s perfectly fine for them to be in their primes while all the driver cadets dream each night of facial hair. The kids have all the skill money can buy. They lack maturity and toughness. Athletes usually grow up slowly. They’ll get it. Even soft walls will knock some sense into them.

Quit crying about Junior being gone, not to mention Jeff and Tony and Carl. NASCAR is damned lucky to have Bowyer and a few others to stretch the borders between old and new.