JOLIET, Ill—After 134 races—and what probably seems like a lifetime—Alex Bowman picked up his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win on Sunday.
The 26-year-old racer, who initially worked his way into Hendrick Motorsports as a test driver, never gave up on his dream to compete at stock car’s highest level.
Bowman used every tool in his arsenal to hold off, then pass and hold off Kyle Larson again over the final six laps at Chicagoland Speedway for the win.
“It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life,” Bowman said. “I feel like this is a lot of validation for a lot of people that said we couldn’t do this.”
After taking over driving duties full-time in the No. 88 Chevrolet last season, Bowman spent the last year-and-a-half building his relationship with crew chief Greg Ives and the team. At Talladega Superspeedway in April, he scored his first of three consecutive second-place finishes to his teammate Chase Elliott, but could not quite break through for the win until Sunday.
Bowman led three times—ironically a total of 88 laps—and held off Larson by .546-seconds to win the Camping World 400.
“I was just tired of running second,” Bowman said. “I don't want to do that anymore. I feel like this is the last box, aside from going and chasing a championship, that I needed personally for myself to validate my career.”
Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowksi, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10.
Dillon led the field to green at just after 2 p.m. Johnson took the lead after seven laps and was at the point when lightning and storms rolled into the area causing NASCAR to red flag the race four laps later. Following a three-hour and 18-minute delay, the race returned to green on Lap 17. Kevin Harvick led 53 laps before pitting. A rash of late stage pit stops turned the lead over to Denny Hamlin. With laps remaining in the segment, Clint Bowyer spun off of Turn 3 to trigger the second caution and secured the stage win for Hamlin.
Harvick reassumed the lead out of the pits but complained of an issue with his tire. Byron passed the No. 4 Ford on Lap 99 and the drivers traded positions three times before the third caution was called for fluid on Lap 104.
Byron grabbed the lead out of the pits. With a push from Johnson, Harvick blasted past Byron, who dropped to 11th. Harvick led 58 laps en route to the Stage 2 win.
Larson emerged as the leader to start Stage 3, but a battle quickly ensued with Bowman. The No. 88 Axalta Chevy took the lead for the first time on Lap 171 but his progression was slowed by Harvick who slapped the Turn 2 wall on Lap 172.
“I got loose there,” Harvick told the crew.
Bowman renewed his quest and led 48 laps on that run prior to pitting on Lap 219. He cycled back to the lead with a 2.5-second advantage of Larson on Lap 226. Although Logano fought Larson for the position, the No. 42 used the high line to pull away. Larson caught Bowman for the first time on Lap 260 and held the lead for two laps but could not hold on.
“I could see him struggle when I was getting to him, and when I got by him, I'm like, all right, good, he's going to be in my dirty air and get loose,” Larson said. “He could get big runs on me down the straightaways, and I think that allowed him to get that run into 1.
“He got to the main side and I got tight, I don't know if him getting air on my spoiler or something got him tight, but I had to kind of breathe it a little bit, and then we side drafted on the backstretch. I wish I would have maybe done some things different into 3 instead of going all the way to the wall, maybe chase him to bottom, just try to hang on his quarter, but he might have cleared me any ways down there.”
Larson’s second-place finish was his best result of the year. Although he’s still searching for a win following a two-year drought, he took solace in the strength of his Ganassi Racing Chevy.
“That was really cool to see a lot of us Hendrick engine guys up front and kind of drafting and breaking away from the groups behind us on the short runs,” Larson added. “I felt good about my car on the long runs.
“If I was out in clean, air, I think we just had a lot of downforce and drag in our car, so I just felt slow in clean air. Was actually surprised I even got to him.”
With four full Cup seasons under his belt, Bowman was just thrilled to capture his first win.
“So proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta, the Hendrick engine shop,” Bowman said. “My guys worked so hard. We struggled so bad last year and the beginning of this year, and man, I had questions if Mr. H (Hendrick) was going to let me keep doing this—everybody—all the rumor mills. But to be here winning a race in the Cup Series means so much. Just couldn’t do it without these guys.
“I obviously feel like there’s a lot more to accomplish, but this is always what I hear is ‘you haven't won a race. I think even Chad (Knaus) said something about me not winning a race. So Chad Knaus, there, we finally did it. Everybody can stop giving me crap. We finally did it.”
Bowman moved up to ninth in the Cup standings and secured a spot in the Playoffs with his win. Logano maintains an 18 point lead over Kyle Busch.