Alex Bowman, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr, was running in the top-five during the Bank of America 500, but blew a tire to end his chances for victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway to finish 39th.
This is Bowman’s fifth race driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. In his first race at Loudon in July, he was running strong, but had issues resulting in a 26th place finish. At Michigan, Bowman’s bad luck continued with a 30th place finish. At Chicagoland and Loudon in September, his luck was looking up with a 10th and 14th place finish.
However, that luck at Charlotte went south. On lap 63, Bowman blew a right front tire sending him into the turn four wall where he would collect Casey Mears.
“Yeah, we didn’t hit anything and it’s nobody’s fault. We just must have run something over. It’s unfortunate and I hate it for all the guys. Everyone at Hendrick Motorsports brought a great car to the race track. Again, it’s unfortunate and we are going to try and get back out there and salvage some spots,” said Bowman.
When asked about his run, Bowman was proud to have his name out there among the top drivers.
“They knew we were here that is all that matters. There is nothing more I can do, nothing more anybody on the race team can do. They all do a great job and did everything right, just bad luck.”
Despite having disappointing finishes, Bowman is still having fun. “The one thing that I said I was going to do throughout all these races was to make the most of it and to have the most fun I possibly could,”
Bowman was able to score his first top-10 finish in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. Bowman is honored to have the opportunity to drive for Rick Hendrick, and is glad that they have given him a chance.
Bowman will finish out the year driving in the No. 88 Chevy, but will step aside at Martinsville to allow Jeff Gordon the chance to drive the car.
Through 13 NASCAR XFINITY Series events in 2016, Alex Bowman has competed in three races. With nine races on his schedule out of the division’s 33, the Arizona native understands he needs to run well to once again compete full-time.
It wasn’t until the 10th race of the season at Dover that Bowman got a shot to go out and drive the No. 88 car for JR Motorsports, which had won two prior races this season at Daytona and Richmond.
At Dover, Bowman started from fifth position after finishing third in the first qualifying heat, won by JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. During a long 71 lap green flag run that opened the event, the No. 88 car raced itself to the front to lead 33 laps en route to a third-place result.
“It was a way to prove that I still belong here,” Bowman told Speedway Digest of his race at Dover. “We drove pass Erik [Jones] and took the lead for a while. It showed that I can contend for wins and it just means a lot that JRM took this chance on me. It let me prove that I deserve to be here.”
Rewind to Jan. 21, the last day of the NASCAR Media Tour, when Bowman found out through Twitter he would not be returning to Tommy Baldwin Racing, replaced by former JR Motorsports driver Regan Smith.
In mid-December, TBR announced it had picked up Bowman’s option 2016 season to drive the No. 7 car in the Cup Series, with Toy State renewing its sponsorship for 13 events in 2016 and 17 in 2017. He is now in the midst of building a foundation to build a long-term relationship with JR Motorsports, with the hope of working with the team to put together a full-time deal next year.
“Dale [Earnhardt, Jr., majority owner] and I have become really close friends, but everyone at JR Motorsports is cool to work with,” Bowman elaborated. “It’s a big family. It’s probably the most fun that I’ve had with a race team. It’s just a lot of good people and a lot of good equipment, and we bring fast cars to the racetrack every week.”
In his second race – the inaugural race at Pocono Raceway for the XFINITY Series – Bowman started the event in 10th and maintained position around the back half of the top 10 all day, finishing right where he started. Since the race was cut 47 laps short due to rain, there is no telling if the No. 88 team could have improved his car to finish higher in the field.
Bowman ran the full XFINITY Series schedule in 2013, minus Homestead for RAB Racing, owned by Robby Benton. He was released of his duties due to a lack of sponsorship. Blake Koch replaced him and finished 13th after starting a career-high second.
Since then, he’s made a stop at BK Racing in 2014, competing for the Rookie of the Year award, along with the aforementioned Tommy Baldwin Racing last year.
Those two teams aren’t among NASCAR elites, with TBR going several races last year with blank cars.
“I just didn’t get chances to win races, but I think that everybody that gets to this point has pretty much won at everything that they have driven to get here,” Bowman said. “I think this year just helps me solidify on people’s minds that I deserve to be here.”
Winning the pole this past weekend in Michigan can’t hurt Bowman. In single-car qualifying trials, the No. 88 Chevrolet was atop the leaderboard. He led the first 11 laps before finishing seventh after restarting second on the final restart with 33 laps remaining.
Bowman has seen worse things than not recording a victory in his NASCAR career. When he was in the Cup Series, he was struggling to finish in the top 30 with a best average finish of 31.6 in 2015. However, his best finish in a Cup Series race, 13th came in 2014 in a rain-shortened event at Daytona in July.
“I think I learned a lot from those two years,” he said. “They were definitely not wasted. I made the most of the situations that I was given. We elevated race teams and helped those teams grow, and at the same time, I learned a lot racing against Cup guys every week for the last two years.”
Bowman’s stop at BK Racing was his first full-time gig in the Cup Series. He had no sponsorship following the 2013 for a ride in the XFINITY Series. It was the No. 23 car or nothing for the 2014 season.
“Yes, but I didn’t have a choice,” Bowman said on if he was rushed to the Cup Series. “It was either that or I was going to sit on the couch because I didn’t have anything else. When I took that first Cup deal, it was either that or sit on the couch and I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot and am able to use that experience that I gained every time that I’m on the racetrack.”
While wishing that it might have been better if he was in a competitive XFINITY Series ride the last two years, Bowman has no regrets. At BK Racing, teamed with Dave Winston as crew chief, he had an average finish of 32.6 with six DNF’s.
Now, Bowman, 23, knows that every race he is in, is a chance to up his stock. If he wants to be in a competitive ride, he feels that winning is a must.
“Anything that can win, I will get in,” Bowman said on what he will drive. “As far as full-time stuff goes, I would love to pull some things together here with JRM. We are working really hard on trying to find partnerships to try and do that. Obviously, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to jump right back into the Cup Series. I want to stay where I can win races.”
In order to get a full-time deal, Bowman needs more days like he has experienced in his first three races behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Having nine races to prove himself on the track, he realizes that those could determine his racing future.
With help of Advance Auto Parts, Cessna and Vannoy Construction, it’s all about building relationships with sponsors.
“It’s really frustrating,” Bowman said of not knowing his future. “I’ve proved that I can contend for wins and I feel like I’m as good as anybody out there, but I don’t have a big sponsor to write a check. It is frustrating at times, but I’m very thankful to be where I’m at and hopefully, we will work something out.”
The No. 88 car currently sits second in the owner standings, seven points behind Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 team. Bowman’s main goal this season is to help Earnhardt and co-owners Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Rick Hendrick win the owner’s championship.
Bowman admits that JR Motorsports brings some of the fastest racecars to the track each week. But in order to win an XFINITY Series race, mistakes need to be at a minimum.
“I think we’re working really hard to try and win this owners championship,” Bowman said. “There is a little pressure to do well for that, but beyond that, I just have to plug in and do my job. I just have to keep plugging in and doing my job the way that the other drivers did when they won their two races.”
Led by second year crew chief David Elenz, the No. 88 team has 12 top-10 finishes in 2016. The only race that the car finished outside of the top 10 was at Atlanta Motor Speedway, when Kevin Harvick finished 12th.
The XFINITY Series heads to Iowa this week, and so does Bowman in his third consecutive race driving for JR Motorsports.
Following that race, Bowman doesn’t have a ride until mid-July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – at least as of now. And though he doesn’t know his future, he knows that winning a race will solve a lot of hassles he has faced throughout his career.
“With the right partnerships and everything if it works out the right way I would love to be here,” Bowman said of wanting to drive for JR Motorsports. “Everyone from JR Motorsports as well as from my side is working really hard to make it happen. I’m pretty content with where I’m at. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I just want to put something together here.”
Alex Bowman edges Erik Jones to win the pole at Michigan by one hundredth of a second. JR Motorsports takes three of the top five. This is Bowman’s third career pole, and his first pole at Michigan. Bowman edges Jones with a speed of 191.59 mph, Jones qualified second with a speed of 191.535 mph, followed by Elliott Sadler (191.342 mph), Justin Allgaier (191.210 mph), and Kyle Busch (190.779 mph).
At Michigan, Joe Gibbs Racing was going for their 11th Xfinity Series pole. At the start of the qualifying session, the air temperature at Michigan was 80 degrees and was warming rather quickly. Two rounds of single car qualifying took place for the Menards 250.
In the first round of qualifying, teams were battling a hot and slick racetrack. Alex Bowman was fastest in this round with a speed of 191.821 mph. followed by Erik Jones (191.286 mph), Elliott Sadler (191.047 mph), Kyle Busch (190.668 mph), and Blake Koch (190.653). Wind played a major factor towards the end of the qualifying session. All three Joe Gibbs Racing and JR Motorsports cars advanced to the second round. Wind played a major factor towards the end of this round. Notables drivers not advancing include Darrell Wallace Jr. (17), Brendan Gaughan (14), Ty Dillon(13). All drivers will race this afternoon.
In the second round of qualifying, track temperature was at 121 degrees with the air temperature being 84 degrees. Round two was stopped for a moment by debris, a trash bag. The top 12 teams were separated by less than a half a second.
Xfinity teams will have their cars impounded before the start of today’s race. The Menards 250 will be on Fox Sports 1 starting at 1 p.m with Raceday.
In what was supposed to be the rain free day of the weekend, rain halted the racing 53 laps into the 100 laps race and by the NASCAR rule book, once the race is passed halfway it is deemed official if weather comes. Pole-sitter Erik Jones was closing in on Larson when the rain hit the race track.
NASCAR waited an hour and 35 minutes before calling the event due to rain. Once the track was near dry it began to pour, which led the series director to call the remainder of the race.
Larson led on several different occasions for a total of 27 circuits. It marks the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers' fourth career win in 82 XFINITY Series starts, and his second career win at Pocono, winning an ARCA event two years ago.
"I'm happy with it," Larson said of the rain coming in and ending the race. "We were good, a little bit better than i thought we would be. We were more comparable to the Gibbs cars than I thought we would be based off practice and qualifying."
Jones finished second on the afternoon after starting from pole, but never leading a lap. For the majority of the 53 laps the No. 20 car was in the runner-up position, first chasing his teammate Kyle Busch then chasing Larson. He felt like this race was another race that she let slip away.
"We had by far one of the best cars in the field today, so it's unfortunate," Jones said of his second-place effort. "Our Camry was good, but just not enough time t get back to the lead and have a shot at it. It's pretty frustrating because this whole year has been a season of just missing it by that much. We missed it in a couple races by penalties and circumstances and today was another one of those days where we had another good shot at the win, but with the way it played out it just didn't work out for us."
Ty Dillon finished third, posting his fourth top-five finish of 2016.
After leading the opening 16 laps, Busch couldn't get back through traffic to take the lead back after making a pit stop under the first caution flag. Finishing fourth on the afternoon, he felt that the team was a step behind.
Joey Logano rounded out the top five after getting off-sequence with the competition.
Elliott Sadler, Paul Menard, Brandon Jones, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman rounded out the top 10.
Brennan Poole finished 12th, ending a streak of four consecutive top 10 finishes, which is a career-high in his rookie season.
On Lap 20, Justin Allgaier made contact with the wall in the "Tunnel Turn" which resulted in a 39th-place finish. The No. 7 team dropped to seventh in the points after starting the race third in the standings.
The series is set to return to action next Saturday at Michigan, where Busch is the defending winner of the event, which was his first race back in the XFINITY Series after his leg injuries last February in Daytona. .
For the fifth time in 2016, Erik Jones will start from the pole in an XFINITY Series race. In the second round of qualifying he laid down a lap of 175.926 mph, which was much faster than the rest of the field. In the first round of qualifying the No. 20 Toyota was over a half-second faster than second-place.
Kyle Busch has been fast since the No. 18 team unloaded on Thursday. He was second overall at 175. 203 mph. His only win at Pocono in NASCAR came last summer when he won in the Camping World Truck Series.
The third Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Daniel Suarez was third quick at 174.784 mph. It his 12th top-10 start of 2016, in 12 events.
Kyle Larson was fourth at 173.568 and Joey Logano rounded out the top five at 172.781 mph.
Elliott Sadler was sixth, Paul Menard seventh, Ty Dillon eighth, Justin Allgaier ninth and Alex Bowman rounded out the top 10.
The top 12 cars in the second round of qualifying were separated by two seconds.
Notable drivers to miss the top 12 cutoff were a pair of rookies led by Brennan Poole who posted the 13th best lap, with Brandon Jones 14th, Cup Series driver Aric Almirola 16th and Brendan Gaughan 17th.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. was the second to last car to attempt a qualifying lap in the opening round. The No. 6 Ford got loose getting into the corner and went for a long spin, keeping it off the wall. In doing so, Bowman was on track for his warm up lap and had to pull his car into the pits to cool the engine down.
Bowman posted the eight fastest lap even with a hot engine, while Wallace will have to come from the rear as he never made a full lap.
The green flag is set to wave shortly after 1:00 p.m. ET.