KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Clint Bowyer slid out of his No. 15 car in the parking lot of BB's Lawnside BBQ, just south of downtown Kansas City, and greeted good buddy Guy Fieri with a hearty handshake.
The Sprint Cup star and Food Network icon were filming an episode of Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," but they kept running into a problem: The guys working at the auto repair shop next door wanted to meet Bowyer and kept wandering into the shots.
"They had to ask all the guys next door to go back inside," BB's owner Lindsay Shannon said, "but what they did was they took the car over there and parked it in the garage, and when they were done, they got all the guys who worked for the garage and had their pictures taken with Clint."
To some, Bowyer has become a pariah, the guy who threw NASCAR into chaos with a controversial spin at Richmond last month. To those in Kansas — and those at that auto repair shop — he's still one of their own, the hometown boy who made good.
"Obviously, with what's been going on lately, it's nice to come home," Bowyer told The Associated Press on Friday. "I always love coming back here, obviously a lot of great memories, lots of friends, people who have been supporting me since my early days."
People willing to stand by him after anything.
The native of Emporia, Kan., still insists his spin at Richmond was unintentional, and NASCAR was unable to prove Bowyer was attempting to manipulate the finish. But in the court of public opinion, Bowyer was quickly found guilty of trying to get teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and he felt the repercussions everywhere he went.
One of the most popular drivers on the series, Bowyer suddenly felt strident fan animosity for the first time. Their chief complaint is that they believe Bowyer has been lying about not spinning on purpose, but if he were to admit guilt, Bowyer would be subject to NASCAR sanctions.
"It's just a ton of distraction," he said. "Ton of disappointment."
NASCAR did uncover evidence that others in Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team tried to alter the outcome at Richmond to get Truex into its version of the playoffs. The result was harsh sanctions against the organization that included knocking Truex out of the Chase — in response, Truex sponsor NAPA Auto Parts said it would pull out at the end of the year.