CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the summer of 1972, singer-songwriter Johnny Nash rocketed to the top of the charts with the smash hit "I Can See Clearly Now," but nearly 45 years later, the anthem might belong to Clint Bowyer.

"Hi, everyone. Remember me?" Bowyer joked at the beginning of his press conference during the NASCAR Media Tour Tuesday. "It's actually nice to be happy; fun to be happy, believe it or not."

After being announced as Tony Stewart's replacement in the No. 14 car way back in September of 2015, Bowyer has a proverbial new lease on life after a disastrous 2016 season. The Emporia, Kansas native spent all of 2016 with now-defunct HScott Motorsports and struggled to keep cool in a car that wasn't competitive.

By all measures, 2016 was Bowyer's worst in NASCAR's top series, with the veteran tallying a career-low in top 10's (3) and a career-worst average finish on the way to a dismal 27th-place finish in the final points standings.

Given the circumstances, it was understandable that the jovial Bowyer would be back to his old self heading into 2017.

"What an unbelievable opportunity it is to go out and do what you love to do, and not only do that, but to go out and do it in first-class equipment built by that only share one thing in common: the will to go out and win races," Bowyer said. "That's all they do, it's all they focus on, it's all they talk about, and it's all they care about."

The commitment to excellence by the Stewart-Haas staff was made apparent from the first time Bowyer walked into the shop. The 2008 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion said the team's focus and no-nonsense attitude is a bonus for him.

"There's no fluff and buff, there's no sales pitch when you walk in the door, it's just guys with their heads down working," Bowyer explained.

Bowyer considers himself a fan of the new championship and race formats rolled out by NASCAR beginning this season, saying he thought the sanctioning body and stakeholders "nailed it" with the segmented races and bonus points awarded for performance not just at the checkered flag, but throughout every race on the schedule.

"I like protecting that team or teams that dominated the season, or even dominated the chase and didn't come out victorious with a championship because of a blown tire or something out of their control," Bowyer said.

"Let me go on record: This isn't a sales pitch, I've said for years I believe it's time to look at some sort of opportunity to break these races up, I'm not a big fan of long runs, and the fans aren't, either," Bowyer said. "I'm really happy that NASCAR looked at that and decided to make a move, a very bold move, and change that."

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hits the high banks of Daytona International Speedway for the season-opening Daytona 500, Bowyer doesn't see himself as the driver that will sacrifice everything in the first segment of the race to earn the extra point. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't like to collect the first playoff point of a new NASCAR era.

"You're not gonna see me going for broke to win that first stage," he said. "I don't care to be the first winner of stage one; however, if I find myself and this Yates horsepower up front and running where I want to run, I just might be the first stage winner."

After winning a career-best three races in 2012, Bowyer has gone four full seasons without taking home a trophy. Bowyer says the goal in 2017 is to again establish himself as a consistent front-runner, and not a sporadic "show up and run good here and be bad the next week" driver, like he has been lately.

And if he does return to victory lane in 2017? Bowyer says the taste of winning will be sweet and the moment memorable, but he'll be far from satisfied.

"Will it be special? You're damn right it will. I'll embrace it, but like the last time I won a race, you'll head to the next one wanting to win that one."