By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Two weeks ago, Alex Bowman was 21st in points with only two 11th place finishes to his name in the first nine Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Fast forward to Monday’s Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway, Bowman scored his second straight runner-up finish, career-highs for the 26-year-old and is now 13th in points.
A wore out Bowman credited his entire No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 squad on their sudden improvements made during the break three weeks ago.
“I’m worn out. This is the physically hardest race of the year for me, for sure. We at least had a shot at it. That’s really all you can ask for,” said Bowman. “I’m still proud of (crew chief) Greg Ives and everybody on this No. 88 team. We had a miserable start to the season and we did a really good job of resetting over the off-weekend. We’ve come out strong since then.”
After finishing second in all three stages at Talladega that gained him six spots in the championship standings, Bowman came to the “Monster Mile” with tremendous confidence, qualifying in fifth.
However, Sunday proved to be the only low point of Bowman’s weekend as he was one of four drivers who failed pre-race inspection, forcing him to give up his valuable starting position.
With rain postponing the 400-lap race to the next day, Bowman was on a mission to scratch and claw his way towards the front of the field in the opening stage. In the opening ten laps, his No. 88 Camaro was already up to 20th, but was handling a tight car off the corners.
When the competition caution came out on Lap 40, Bowman brought his car into the pits and made key adjustments, which paid dividends as the race near its quarter mark as he moved up to 10th on the 88th lap. Bowman would end up seventh and scored four stage points.
Stage 2 was Bowman’s highest point as he ran inside the top-five for most of the run, and then on Lap 223, he was battling pole sitter and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott for the race lead, which he successfully passed him.
Bowman’s time at the front didn’t last as he went wide in Turn 1, giving Martin Truex, Jr. the lead. He didn’t give up on getting a stage win as he tried getting by Truex in Turn 3, but the lapped car of Bubba Wallace got in the way and gave Truex the advantage for his first stage win of the season. Bowman ended up with yet another second place stage finish, giving him an additional nine stage points and 13 total for the race.
During crunch time, Bowman reported his car being more free but remained inside the top-three in that sequence of green flag racing. With 90 laps to go, his car began getting tight once again but kept soldiering on and ran second behind Truex for the remainder of the race.
As Truex scored his second win of the season, Bowman bodied his previous best of 20th set in 2015 when he was driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, with another runner-up finish and gained two spots in the championship standings.
Bowman said that finishing second and leading 16 laps after working his way from the rear at a difficult track like Dover was rewarding for his entire team.
“It would be better if we had a trophy, right? But, we needed this, for sure,” said Bowman. “Talladega is a speedway and it’s a lot of luck involved. But to come here to, in my opinion the hardest race track we go do, and run like that from the back of all things, was pretty special. I’m just proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for all the improvement we’ve made over the last year or so and we’re going to keep it going.”
The Arizonian will eye to keep his hot streak alive at Kansas Speedway for the running of the Digital Ally 400 400 May 11, where in three previous starts with Hendrick Motorsports, two resulted in top-10s with a seventh in the fall 2016 race being his personal best.