Alex Bowman’s performance at the Charlotte Roval evoked a “refuse-to-lose” review from his team owner, Rick Hendrick.
Considering his under-the-weather racer entered the weekend two-points below the cut line for the Round of 12 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the odds were against Bowman. Although he qualified second, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet wrecked with moments remaining in final practice. The miscue forced Bowman to drop to the rear of the field in a backup car at the start of the Bank of America Roval 400.
But Bowman wasn’t giving up without a fight.
“I was pretty embarrassed after (Saturday); then I embarrassed myself on the first lap, too,” Bowman said of his spin on Lap 1 of the race. “It didn’t feel too good to go and do that. Really frustrated with myself and the mistakes I made throughout the weekend. Not really acceptable.
“But I’m glad the guys gave me a car capable of making up for it.”
The early spin in the backstretch chicane dropped Bowman to 40th in the running order--last place--but the driver of the No. 88 Chavrolet made up ground during the first 20 ls before calamity struck again.
Two laps prior to the end the first stage, Bowman was collected in a six-car wreck in Turn 1. Temporarily, he dropped to 15th in the standings, 25 points out of 12th—the final transfer spot. Twenty laps later, Bowman dumped Bubba Wallace. Bowman claimed Wallace had held him up for multiple laps. To add insult to injury, Wallace repeatedly reminded Bowman he was “No. 1”, using his middle finger for emphasis.
“I don’t know if he was mad about the first lap (when Wallace was a victim of Bowman's spin), 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’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. I got flipped off by him for like three or four laps in a row at Richmond, so I’m just over it.”
After Bowman turned Wallace, he was back in the top 15 but dropped to 26th after pit stops on Lap 43. When Stage 2 ended, he was 24th and 14th in the standings, facing a 20-point deficit.
Bowman restarted 20th for the final stage with 55 circuits to decide the contest and the eight additional drivers that would advance to Round 2 with Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott. Four drivers bouncing around the bubble—William Byron, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer were all running ahead of the No. 88 Chevy.
By the next caution on Lap 62, Bowman was up to 16th and had put Newman in his rearview mirror. He pitted on Lap 76 and was back to 13th when the seventh caution was called on Lap 89, with 20 laps to go. Bowman gained two more positions over the next two restarts and climbed to sixth by Lap 95. After the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team pitted Almirola on Lap 97, he dropped to 29th —and to 14th in the standings, nine points behind Newman.
Newman received additional damage in a wreck involving Kurt Busch, Ryan Preece and Chris Buescher on Lap 99—and a late penalty for cutting the chicane all but eliminated the No. 6 Ford from contention. After the race returned to green, a dogfight ensued between Almirola and Newman at mid-pack, as the Hendrick duo of Chase Elliott and Bowman blasted past race leader Harvick and second-place Truex. Bowman finished second, three-seconds behind Elliott. Despite collecting no stage points throughout the race, Bowman ended up five points ahead of Almirola in 12th-place to advance to Round 2 of the Playoffs.
After the race, Bowman dropped to the ground outside of his race car.
“I was just really sick Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; I felt a little bit better (Sunday),” Bowman said after he was treated in the infield care center. “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 got some fluids and I’m definitely feeling better. We’ll be good to go in Dover.”
Crew chief Greg Ives was inspired to see his driver and the No. 88 team perform so well despite the obstacles. And Round 2 couldn’t be better suited for Bowman, considering he finished second at Dover, Talladega and Kansas in the spring.
“I think it’s a big boost for Alex not to be feeling well and to come out here and finish second,” Ives said. “Going all the way to the back, then redeeming himself from the practice incident—obviously, I’m relieved.
“He never gave up. The big thing was—just don’t go out and mess up that last lap. The 10 (Almirola) came up a little short. The 6 (Newman) had an issue. I just didn’t want to be one of those guys that gave up second-place. Obviously, I wanted him to go for the win, but the 9 (Elliott) was pretty fast and credit to those guys. So we’ll move on to Dover—a track we feel like we can go out and finish well.”
With the grit Bowman exhibited on Sunday, he earned praise from the boss as well.
“You know, nobody tries any harder than Alex does,” Hendrick said. “He just didn't give up. I mean, and he was quick, but he just refused to lose today. I thought, man, if he gets up there to Chase, we might have a problem.
“But no, Alex is committed. He's a hundred percent in. Greg, that's such a good team. I'm excited to see where they're going to go here in the next round. But when you think about where he came from and finished second, that was unbelievable. Proud of him.”