WHEN YOU GUYS WERE THINKING ABOUT WHEN YOU MIGHT COME BACK, DID THE EXTRA MILEAGE OF THIS RACE COME INTO PLAY AT ALL?
“Yeah, I think so. I think it got talked a lot, for sure. But at the same time, I feel like I’m ready. I feel like kind of the little bit of pain that I’m going to be stuck with, I’m probably going to be stuck with it for quite a while. So this week, versus next week, versus the following week – it kind of is what it is. Yeah, I think we talked about it, but I was able to run a lot of laps at North Wilkesboro (Speedway) on Tuesday. I felt OK about things, so yeah I’m pretty confident that I’ll be just fine.”
YOU’RE IN AN UNIQUE SITUATION COMING BACK WITH THE POINTS AND STILL BEING AROUND THE PLAYOFF CUTLINE. WHAT DOES THAT DO FOR YOU COMING BACK – DOES THAT PUT YOU AT EASE KNOWING YOU CAN STILL GET IN ON POINTS, OR DOES THAT STILL HURT YOU A LITTLE BIT?
“I don’t think it puts us at ease with the situation we’re in, points-wise, by any means. A lot can happen – you can have a lot of winners and that can change really quickly. But I think what it does do is talks about the season we’ve had so far. Missed three points races, had a 60-point penalty and still be on the playoff cutline – it says how good of a season we were having before I did get hurt. Excited to be back and hopefully we can pickup where we left and be strong right out of the gate.”
THIS IS THE FIRST TIME HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS HAD THE WHOLE CAMP TOGETHER SINCE AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE THE WHOLE CAMP BACK TOGETHER GIVEN THE SECOND-HALF OF THE SEASON STARTS ON SUNDAY?
“Yeah, I don’t know that they were missing much without me around (laughs). But it’s good to be back, for sure. It’s been an interesting year for all of us – whether it’s the crew chief deal, Chase (Elliott) getting hurt and me getting hurt. Glad to have us all back and hopefully we can keep it that way for the rest of the year.”
YOU WOULDN’T BE CLIMBING INTO THE CAR THIS WEEKEND IF YOU WEREN’T CLEARED. WHAT ARE YOU STILL DEALING WITH PHYSICALLY?
“Yeah, I mean I broke my back a month ago, so there’s definitely things that are going to come along with that for a long time. Shoot from everybody I’ve talked to, probably forever. There’s some discomfort here and there, and things that I do that don’t feel good. But that’s just part of it and stuff I’m going to have to deal with. It’s not too bad. For the most part, I’m back to normal. Kind of easing back to getting back into the gym and training hard. I didn’t want to kill myself training all week this week trying to be ready for the 600, and then show up tomorrow super sore and worn out already. Just trying to be smart with things. But yeah, twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts or do different things and it hurts a little bit. In the racecar, at the end of a six hour race, I’m probably not going to feel the best. But as far as the 200 laps that I did at North Wilkesboro, I felt OK.”
“Yeah, I think so. Once I’m in the seat, it’s not too bad. There really hasn’t been anything that they could do at all, the whole time. As high as T3 is, it’s not like I had a brace or anything like that. Yeah, just been trying to do the best I can with it.”
BLAKE’S (HARRIS) FOCUS COMING INTO THIS SEASON WAS JUST OVERALL CONSISTENCY, WHICH YOU GUYS ACHIEVED EARLY. NOW THAT YOU’VE HAD A PROLONGED BREAK, HOW DO YOU KICKSTART THAT AGAIN?
“That’s a good question.. it would have been really nice to kickstart that again with some practice today. Really just try to understand where we’re going to pick up. Like I ran some laps myself at North Wilkesboro, but I haven’t raced. I haven’t competitively driven a racecar in a month, so just trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good. Lap time-wise, we were plenty competitive in our test, but that’s by yourself. Obviously North Wilkesboro is significantly different than Charlotte.. about as different as they get. So just trying to see where we stack up whenever I do get back into the car and kind of go from there.”
DEFINE ‘PAIN’.. THERE’S PAIN AND THERE’S PAIN THAT COMES AND GOES. WHAT’S YOUR TOLERANCE FOR PAIN AND HOW MUCH DOES IT HURT?
“Yeah, until I do it, I don’t know. That’s the biggest thing and that’s really the whole reason in testing. The doctor was like it’s healing and you can do it based on pain tolerance, but you can’t simulate what it’s going to be like without getting in a racecar. And even that, you can’t simulate Charlotte at North Wilkesboro, so I don’t have a clue. It’s going to hurt. I don’t know how much it’s going to hurt. Hopefully it doesn’t hurt very much because at North Wilkesboro it didn’t. All we did was make long runs there to try and simulate being here and how long the 600 is. But we had two sets of tires, two hours and a flat race track that is really slick and doesn’t give you any G-forces. We have five-and-a-half hours tomorrow night with a ton of G-forces and a ton of grip, so it’s about as different as it could possibly get. But yeah, I think I’ll be alright.”
IN THE PAST, HOW WOULD YOU RATE YOUR TOLERANCE FOR PAIN ON A SCALE OF ONE TO 10 PRIOR TO THIS?
“I don’t know, I think I’m a bit of a wimp, if we’re being honest. But no, I’ve raced through some things before and I feel like I’ll be OK. Honestly, it’s not that bad. I feel like a lot of people have had similar injuries that were so much worse. Obviously I got out of the car and walked away. It’s not too bad. It’s a bit uncomfortable, but I’ll be fine.”
WITH NO PRACTICE, WAS IT STILL NICE TO BE ABLE TO GET IN THE CAR THIS WEEK AT NORTH WILKSBORO INSTEAD OF GOING INTO TOMORROW WITH NOTHING?
“Yeah, for sure. And honestly, as much as it was for me to get my head wrapped around what it was actually going to feel like, I feel like that was a part of getting cleared – having a doctor there and kind of going through that. Glad we were able to do that. Obviously would have liked track time today to kind of know what I signed myself up for tomorrow, but yeah I think it was definitely good to be able to do that. Ran a lot of laps in the simulator, which doesn’t really do a whole lot, but hopefully that gives me an idea of what my racecar is going to be like. I think it was really good for me, mentally. Obviously it was a requirement to get cleared, but just mentally to know what to expect, feels good.”
WHAT DID THEY EXACTLY DO TO YOUR BACK – WAS IT A REST THING OR DID THEY PUT PINS IN IT? SECONDLY, ARE YOU GOING TO STICK TO JUST NASCAR RACING OR WILL YOU STILL GO BACK TO SOME OTHER STUFF LIKE YOU WERE DOING?
“Yeah, they walked in and said you broke your back.. come back and see us again in three weeks (laughs). Honestly there just wasn’t anything that they could do. It wasn’t something that required surgery or anything like that. It was too high to brace. So honestly, it was a lot of rest at first. I tried to keep myself busy. I felt like after a week or two, kind of the less I moved, the more I hurt. So I’d go to my shop and walk around, or go to HMS and walk around, and then I slowly worked my way into getting back to the gym. I walked a lot. Just trying to keep it loose and let it heal. Thankfully, it is healing. It was stable. I didn’t have any big complications. Obviously that similar crash and similar injury hurt a lot of others much worse, so just thankful it wasn’t worse for me.
As far as racing other stuff – someday, for sure. I want to get back into a sprint car and a midget. For me, I felt like we were just kind of getting rolling a little bit in a sprint car, and getting more and more competitive. That night, we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there.. that’s something I really want to conquer and at least be able to be competitive with like the World of Outlaws or at High Limit races. It would mean a lot to me. So someday I’ll get back to that, but as a guy that’s sat on the couch more in the last eight months than not, probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”
WHAT MAKES YOU SO CONFIDENT IN BEING ABLE TO RACE THIS WEEKEND?
“Well I’m not very smart, so that might be part of it (laughs). But no, just running laps in the car on Tuesday, it didn’t hurt. Like the physical act of driving the racecar, I was fine. It’s going to be a long night and I’m going to be pretty sore by the end of it, but yeah I’m confident. I wish we had practice. That would probably make me a little more confident. But I wouldn’t be back here if I wasn’t confident that I could run the whole race.”
DID YOU PRACTICE THEM DROPPING THE JACK AND HAVING THAT FEELING?
“Yeah, that was my biggest fear, by far. Obviously these cars are very stiff. We’ve seen with the Next Gen car how much stiffer it is and how much more it kind of shocks the driver’s body. Yeah, I was terrified to drop the jack. We did it and it didn’t hurt at all. The thing that I thought was going to hurt the most didn’t hurt at all, so that makes me feel good. I don’t think I would get away with 600 miles on one set of tires, so dropping the jack is going to be a requirement tomorrow night or Monday.”
DO YOU THINK SONOMA RACEWAY WILL REALLY BE THE NEXT CHALLENGE AFTER JUST GETTING THROUGH THIS 600 MILES BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING LEFT AND RIGHT?
“Yeah, for sure. I think I have a lot of challenges ahead of me, for sure. Sonoma (Raceway) isn’t going to feel good with how tall the curbs are and how stiff the racecars are. That race is physical, in general.
My challenges are going to be that. My challenges are going to be the fact that I sat on the couch for the last month and wasn’t able to train. There’s a lot of things that are going to be difficult to catch back up on. But yeah, I’m confident I’ll be fine. It may not be the most fun, but I’ll be fine.”
DO YOU GUYS HAVE A STRATEGY HOW TO ADVANCE TO THE PLAYOFFS?
“Yeah, I think for us, we just have to do what we were doing. We had the best average finish out of anybody at the time I got hurt. We had a massive points penalty, missed three points races and we’re still on the cutoff line. So if we can just go back to how we were running, I know we can do it. Obviously we want to go win races and I think that comes with how we were performing. But yeah, just have to go kick some butt.”
BOWMAN ON STARTING 31ST IN A 600-MILE RACE:
“I have one of the best crew chiefs on pit road, best race team on pit road, top-five best pit crew on pit road – there’s no reason why we can’t accomplish it. Honestly, if I can drive the racecar at the level that I think I’m capable of doing and we have a good car when we take off, there’s no reason we can’t win from 31st. I think for me, I want to make all the laps and I want to have a good, solid top-10 day coming back from breaking my back. But yeah, there’s no reason that with our race team and our capabilities that we can’t win from anywhere we start every week.”