Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Bowman Survives Charlotte with Runner-Up Finish, Advances in Playoffs

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – For Alex Bowman, Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a war on many fronts.

Not only did the Hendrick Motorsports driver have the points battle and advancing on in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs to worry about, but as the race progressed, he also had to contend with fellow drivers out on track and his own health issues to be able to make it out of the first round of the postseason with his championship hopes still intact.

Following a subpar finish at Richmond last weekend that left him on the outside looking in heading into Charlotte, Bowman needed things to go his way on Sunday in order to advance, but by the middle of the week, things started falling apart for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet.

With illness hampering things coming into the weekend, Bowman made Sunday’s race even harder on himself during final practice, wrecking his primary car in the waning minutes of practice and forcing his team to a backup for the race.

Once the race began, Bowman’s quest to advance on in the Playoffs really started going off the rails.

Heading into the backstretch chicane on Lap 1, Bowman wheel-hopped, causing his car to spin around, which in turn led to a pass-through penalty for missing the chicane. Behind the eight-ball early, Bowman’s hopes of making it to the next round of the Playoffs were fading fast.

Battling back through the field later in the race, Bowman was contending with Bubba Wallace for important track position, when according to Bowman, Wallace started flipping him the bird a number of times. Eventually, Bowman took matters into his own hands, sending Wallace for a spin in the backstretch chicane on Lap 43.

Wallace would gather his car up and was able to continue on in the race, with Bowman noting to his team that he’d had enough of Wallace telling him he was No. 1.

“I’ve got to stand up for myself at some point, right? He probably wouldn’t have got wrecked if he had his finger back in the car,” Bowman said.

“We raced side-by-side later in the race and didn’t run into each other then, so it is, what it is in my book. Just don’t flip me off. If you do it once, I get it. I ran into you on the first lap, that’s on me, I messed up. Don’t do it for three laps in a row every single straightaway.”

After the incident with Wallace, Bowman was still mired back in the pack and had more pressing concerns with the points race and his fading health for the remainder of the race.

With the laps winding down and a spot in the next round of the Playoffs on the line, Bowman eventually raced his way into the top-10 before finding himself in sixth-place when the final caution and red flag of the day flew on lap 100.

The illness that Bowman had been battling all weekend long was getting worse with the scorching hot temperatures in Charlotte and having to stop during the red flag only served to exacerbate the situation.

“I was just really sick Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; I felt a little bit better today,” Bowman said. “But I was just really behind on being hydrated and just kind of exhausted. I was tired and everything was real tingly, which is not a great feeling inside a race car.

“I mean probably about lap 10 of the race, I was pretty done and out of it just from a physical standpoint. I just tried to keep digging.”

Though NASCAR was in the process of delivering water to the parched drivers during the red flag, they never made it to Bowman before the yellow flag came back out and the field started rolling once again.

“I saw them coming with water and I was out of water in the car; and they didn’t get to me,” he said. “They got like four cars behind me and then they started rolling. And I was like, dang-it, man; I could have used that water. It’s just part of it. I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job on the physical side of things this year with a lot of help from Josh Wise and leaning on Jimmie Johnson a lot. But, when you’re sick, it just gets to you.”

Despite the health issues in the cockpit, Bowman still had a job to do and when the green flag flew for the final time with five laps to go, Bowman got down to business, climbing up to second-place behind teammate Chase Elliott. Though he gave it his best shot, Bowman couldn’t catch Elliott in the closing laps and would have to settle for a runner-up finish.

Even with a second-place result, the 26-year-old still needed help to be able to advance on in the Playoffs. He got the help he needed when his closest adversary in points, Ryan Newman, missed the backstretch chicane and was hit with a penalty from NASCAR for not stopping to acknowledge missing the chicane.

Newman’s 32nd place finish gave Bowman more than enough leeway to take the 12th and final transfer spot into the second round of the Playoffs as the series heads to Dover next weekend.

“I tried to give it away on lap 1,” Bowman said of his day. “As soon as I touched the brake pedal it started wheel-hopping and turned around on me. I apologize to those that got collected in that. I feel like I hurt myself more than anybody on that one.

“But I’m glad we were able to rebound and the guys obviously gave me a really strong car to get back through the field. There at the end, cautions were rough. Under green it is what it is. But under caution, when you actually have time to think about how you feel, it’s not much fun.”

Crew chief Greg Ives noted that the team didn’t have any quit in them despite the issues they had to deal with all weekend and credited his driver with getting them through to the next round.

“I think it’s a big boost for Alex to not be feeling well, come out of here, and finish second,” Ives said. “You know, it was pretty exciting to see the 9 car win, but if we were fast enough, which we weren’t it might have gotten a little exciting.

“Never gave up. You still don’t know even what’s going to happen with the points. The thing there was just don’t mess up that last lap. The 6 had an issue. We just didn’t want to be one of those guys that gave up our second place. Obviously, I wanted him to go after the win, but the 9 was pretty fast. Credit to those guys and we’ll move onto Dover.”

After the race, Bowman slumped down beside his car as the heat had finally taken its toll on him. As he was getting attended to by medical personnel, his rival from the race, Bubba Wallace, came by to express his displeasure with their on-track run-in, splashing him with the drink he had in his hand and saying a few choice words in the process.

“I don’t know if he was mad about the first lap, or what, but obviously that was just a mistake,” Bowman said. “And then I got flipped off every single straightaway on the entire race track for three laps. I got flipped off by him for like three or four laps in a row at Richmond, so I’m just over it.

“I probably shouldn’t repeat what he said to me, but nothing classy by any means. I mean, I get it. I’d be mad too, but he put himself in that spot.”

Bowman would have to go to the Infield Care Center shortly thereafter to get his fluids replenished, but emerged a half-hour later ready to move onto Dover and continue his team’s push through the Playoffs.

“I got some fluids and I’m definitely feeling better,” he said afterwards. “We’ll be good to go in Dover.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.