By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman outlasted his rivals to advance to the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Bowman entered the Bank of America Roval 400 just one point above the Playoff cutoff held by Joey Logano. The driver of the No. 88 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE raced around rivals Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, and Kyle Busch throughout the race. As the lead swapped between Bowyer, Busch, and others, Bowman bounced in and out of the final Playoff transfer spot.
As the final stage at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval neared the end however, Bowman climbed up the running order. The Tucson, AZ native briefly took the lead with 27 laps to go. Bowman’s Hendrick teammate, and race winner, Chase Elliott swept by two laps later.
Although a caution and it’s ensuing pit strategy put Busch back in the lead, the strategy swung back to Bowman. The defending Cup Series Champion was forced to pit for fuel late, putting Bowman back into the Playoffs. Although the 27-year-old slipped down the running order in the final laps, he took the checkered flag in eighth and advanced to the Round of 8.
“It means a lot to me and my race team (to race into the Round of 8),” explained Bowman. “These guys work really hard all year. I feel like sometimes my team doesn’t get the respect that they deserve. It validates all their hard work.
“Obviously, we have a long way to go to make it to the Round of 4 at Phoenix, but these guys work so hard, do such a good job, and give me such great racecars. I’m just so happy for them. Wish we could have been a little bit better today, we struggled with the racecar a little bit. Still ended up with a solid top-10 and had what we needed there for points.”
Under one of the late cautions, Bowman notified his crew that he was feeling unwell. After some inspiring words from his crew, and some jokes from Bowman himself, the future driver of the No. 48 felt better. He later explained that his anxiety is what made him feel unwell.
“I guess my nerves were getting to me a little bit,” admitted Bowman. “It means a lot to this race team to make the Round of 8. It’s something that we’ve fallen short of doing the previous two years. So, thanks to Valvoline and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. I think a lot of people slept on us coming into the Playoffs a little bit so it’s a lot of validation for us to make that round.
“When you’re racing champions of the sport, to be able to advance,” Bowman continued, “you’re never comfortable, right? And especially Kyle Busch. My nerves were getting to me a little bit but I’m glad we had a solid day. We weren’t very good. We were really tight and then I would end up snapping the rears and burning the rear tires off the thing really bad. But we did all we could and I’m glad we advanced.”
Bowman’s top-10 started with a clean first Stage in wet conditions. In a historic first for the Cup Series, the drivers started the race at Charlotte on wet tires. While several struggled for grip as they switched to slick tires and the track dried at the end of the Stage, Bowman stayed on course.
The runner-up from last year’s Roval race didn’t finish inside the top-10 in the first Stage. Bowman did move back into the top-10 in Stage 2, adding to his points cushion.
The eighth-place finish is Bowman’s 12th top-10 this season. That matches his single-season career high that he earned last year. The top-10 finish was also Bowman’s 38th in his Cup Series career.
After reseeding for the Round of 8, Bowman is seventh in the points standings, 18 behind the cutoff, held by Elliott. He is 58-points behind leader Kevin Harvick.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo