Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Bowman Seeks Playoff Berth at Indy in First Season with Hendrick

By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Heading into Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, Alex Bowman sits in the 16th and final spot in the championship standings as he seeks to clinch a spot in the playoffs after taking over the reins of the No. 88 Chevrolet from the retired Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

While Bowman has a wide enough margin over Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to clinch a spot based on points, the 25-year-old could get bumped from the playoffs if there is a new winner outside the current 16-driver playoff grid at Indianapolis.

“I think it’s no secret it’s been a rough year for us and for all of Hendrick Motorsports, but we are still in contention for the playoffs, so that is cool to be a part of,” Bowman said during his media availability on Saturday morning at Indianapolis.

“Vastly different than anything else I’ve done in my career or any other position I’ve been in in the Cup Series. It’s a pretty vulnerable spot coming to Indy with guys who have won here behind you in points that haven’t won yet, but you know, I think we can get the job done just as good as they can. I’m excited.  I think it would be a great thing to be a part of the playoffs and hopefully we are in it and we can go from there.”

Here is how the various scenarios break down for Bowman:

  • If there is a repeat winner, or a win by Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola or Jimmie Johnson, Bowman would clinch on points regardless of his finish.
  • However, if there is a new winner outside the current 16-driver playoff grid, Bowman would need to out-point the 15th-place competitor by 20 points. If he was to earn a top-six finish at Indy, he would need to out-point the 15th-place competitor by 19 points.

Clear as mud, right? Speaking of mud, another wrinkle is the weather in Indianapolis, as heavy and persistent rain has cancelled all track activity on both Friday and Saturday and the outlook for Sunday remains bleak.

“I tested here last year in the wheel force car, but I really feel like we tend to unload pretty close and there are quite a few teams that unload a little bit off and kind of have to catch up and we seem to run better when the tracks aren’t rubbered up for whatever reason. So, I’m all for just sending it to the race. I think that might actually be better for us,” said Bowman regrading not being able to practice before the 400-mile race.

“Obviously, the weather is a little interesting. I think we have some floaties that we might attach to the car, maybe a rudder in the back, we can all take a vote on rain tires, but it’s going to be interesting for sure. Shoot it might make it a great race for the fans,” Bowman said with a smirk.

The potential for a new winner in the 2018 season seems unlikely given 24 of the 25 races this season have been won by drivers currently in the top-13 on the playoff grid.

However, four drivers currently outside the top-16 on the playoff grid have won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2010. Jamie McMurray kissed the bricks in 2010 with a big victory during his most successful season in the Cup Series. Paul Menard won his first and only MENCS race in 2011 and Indiana native Ryan Newman won from the pole in 2013.

Last year, Kasey Kahne went to victory lane in a double overtime finish after Jimmie Johnson wrecked in a three-wide battle for the lead on the final lap of regulation. Just 19 of the 40 cars were running at the checkered flag.

While anything can happen once the weather clears and the field takes the green flag, the odds are in Bowman’s favor that he will be one of the 16 drivers contending for a championship. Making the playoffs in his first season in top-level equipment would be special for Bowman.

“It would mean a lot to me to be in the playoffs right off the bat. Coming from what I came from and kind of going through everything I went through to make the playoffs in my first year with Hendrick Motorsports would be really special. I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch because I will jinx myself and ‘bad luck Bowman’ will come out and somebody will win on fuel mileage or something and I will be out, but it’s cool to be in this position, hopefully we can pull it off.”

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