Alex Bowman Claims the Surfboard at Auto Club Speedway

Photo by Rachel Schuoler / Kickin' the Tires

FONTANA, CA — Alex Bowman dominates the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway leading over half the race to earn his second career victory in the NASCAR Cup Series.

His most recent contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports is currently set to end at the conclusion of the 2020 season, but the Arizona native said he’s used to the pressure of expiring contracts.

“Every year is a contract year,” shared a confident Bowman. “Every year of my life in the Cup Series has been a contract year. I’ve had contracts and two weeks before Daytona read a Tweet that said I’m not going to Daytona. There’s never a situation that I feel completely comfortable in. I feel like if somebody doesn’t want you driving their race cars, you’re not going to be there driving it. I’m as motivated as ever, doing everything I can to try to be the best on and off the racetrack as I can be. Hendrick Motorsports is where I want to be. It’s where I want to stay for the rest of my career.

“Hopefully we can make that happen, but like you said, it is a contract year, but honestly every year of my career has been a contract year, so it’s not much different than last year.”

It was the second race in a row where Bowman battled with Ryan Blaney. The two drivers virtually monopolized last weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but a late race caution created a difficult situation for both drivers. They elected to come to pit road, and weren’t able to get back into the top 10 by the time the race-deciding caution flew after the leaders took the white flag.

Both drivers were first and second in the closing laps when Blaney suffered a right-rear tire failure. Bowman also had signs of potential tire issues after an earlier pit stop, but the crew was able to make adjustments to help Bowman stay focused on the surfboard, the signature trophy for winning at California.

“I feel like I’ve had a lot of motivation every week,” said the 26-year old driver. “There’s a lot of outside pressure. There’s a lot of pressure from myself. When I come here and don’t run well and people think I look mad or upset or I’m not friendly, you’re dang right, I want to win races. I don’t like running bad.”

Bowman came one spot shy of taking home maximum points after winning Stage 1 and second in Stage 2. His performance leveraged him to third in points, and the win secures a spot in the Playoffs. Chevrolet’s first win in 2020 also gives the Cup series its first time since 2016 that all manufacturers start the season with a trip each to Victory Lane.

“I don’t know that we’ve changed anything since we unloaded off the truck,” said Bowman after dominating Sunday’s race. “That really comes down to a lot of great preparation in the shop, Greg (Ives, crew chief) making really good decisions with our package that we brought here this year. This is a place we’ve struggled at for the last two years, so for him to be able to unload that close, really the last two weeks in a row, makes my job much easier. It’s really been our probably best couple practices the last two years that I’ve been driving for HMS, and I just attribute that to the hard work in the shop and great work over the off-season.

“Today was good for us.”

Greg Ives gets his fifth career win as a crew chief, first three coming with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2015. When posed the question about Bowman’s contract, Ives joked about the pressure for more wins.

“He’s going to need multiple wins, so we’re going to work on that,” laughed Ives as he glared at Bowman.

“I know when I show up next week or tomorrow morning in the shop,” he continued, “it’s going to be a totally different feeling than what I had last year coming out of California. We need to take that positive momentum of the hard work Chevy put in and we needed to put that to results on the racetrack, whether it was top 10, top 5s.  It’s great to have the win, but continuously building that momentum is something that is needed in the shop environment.”

For Hendrick Motorsports, it truly has been a night and day difference between last year and this. Chase Elliott brought the organization their first victory of 2019 at Talladega Superspeedway, and Bowman’s first career win at Chicagoland Speedway was the first victory in a non-restrictor plate race. The team struggled with the 1.5-mile package and tracks, but started to gain some momentum toward the end of the season when their drivers were eliminated from the Playoffs after the Round of 12. For 2020, this marks consecutive races where Bowman has battled for the hardware, with Hendrick get four top 10 results at Vegas and Auto Club.

“I drive for the best team in the sport,” Bowman declared about his Hendrick organization. “So I feel like that’s where a lot of the pressure comes from. I feel like I have one of the best crew chiefs in the sport, definitely have the best pit crew on pit road. So there’s a lot of best things that I’ve got to back up and do my job with. My team never second-guesses me, (and) I never second-guess Greg and the guys.”

Ryan Blaney still leads the championship standings by 11 markers over Joey Logano. Bowman and Kevin Harvick are tied for third, just one point below last weekend’s winner. Jimmie Johnson sits in the fifth championship position after his top 10 result in his final start at his home track. Bowman looks to continue to spoil the party.

“I just want to win races. That’s all there is to it.”

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