Alex Bowman makes first trip to Victory Lane
By Rick Minter / Andrews McMeel Syndication
Sunday’s Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway showcased the story of a onetime journeyman driver, Alex Bowman, who persevered through some tough times in his career to finally end up in Victory Lane following a Monster Energy Cup Series race.
Bowman, 26, spent the early part of his 134-race Cup career driving for underfunded teams and eventually found himself without a job. He got his big break in 2016 when he was hired by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports for a limited Xfinity Series schedule.
Through that team’s affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman was hired to run several Cup races in the No. 88 Chevy when Earnhardt suffered a concussion. He nearly won at Phoenix that year, starting from the pole and leading 194 laps before falling to sixth place at the finish.
He remained in the employ of Hendrick in 2017 as Earnhardt returned to the No. 88, although that meant Bowman wouldn’t be racing in Cup. He did win one of his two Xfinity starts for JR Motorsports and was later announced as the full-time driver of the No. 88 beginning last year.
Since then, he and his Hendrick Motorsports team have struggled to match the team’s performances of seasons past, but this year Bowman has emerged as a contender to win races.
He finished second three straight times — at Talladega, Dover and Kansas — before scoring the win on Sunday at Chicago.
Bowman, who led a total of 88 laps in Sunday’s race, which was interrupted for more than three hours because of rain, held the top spot as the laps wound down. But another driver who has finished second a frustratingly large number of times, Kyle Larson, ran him down and took the lead with eight of 267 laps remaining.
Just as it looked as if Larson would finally get a Chicago win after several disappointments there, Bowman summoned some speed that few suspected he had and retook the lead for good from Larson with six laps remaining.
Larson held on to finish second, with Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski completing the top five.
Bowman’s victory, coupled with the strong finishes by Larson and Johnson, were a big boost for Chevrolet, which has been overshadowed this year by the Toyotas from Joe Gibbs Racing and the Fords of Team Penske. Chevy’s only other victory this year came at Talladega Superspeedway, where Chase Elliott won in his No. 9 Camaro.
Bowman said in his frontstretch interview — held in the grass after he got stuck in the rain-soaked trioval — that he willed his way past Larson at the end.
“I was just tired of running second,” he 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.
“I feel like, obviously, there’s a lot more left to accomplish, but this is always what I hear is, ‘You haven’t won a race.’”
In Victory Lane, Bowman was interviewed by Parker Kligerman, another talented young driver who has spent most of his career driving for underfunded teams and now divides his time between driving and TV work.
If anyone could fully appreciate what the win meant to Bowman, it was Kligerman.
“You know how it is,” Bowman said to Kligerman in comments carried on NBCSN. “We were both in the same boat and had a different set of circumstances. I can’t believe it. …
“I didn’t change anything from running 35th every week. I might work out a little harder and study a little harder, but I didn’t change much, and to go from doing that to doing this is pretty incredible.”
Earlier this season, it was announced that one of the No. 88 team’s main sponsors, Nationwide, is not returning next year. Bowman said the Chicago win should make the sponsor search a little easier.
“Finding a partner is really important to us, and I’m glad we have a really good team of people upstairs at Hendrick Motorsports to work on that,” he said. “I’m confident that we’ll make it happen.”
He said he’s been told his job is secure going forward. “I’m going to be driving the car next year,” he said. “I’m not worried about that. [Team owner Rick Hendrick] has told me I’m good there, so that’s all I need to hear.
“We just need to go win some more races and maybe go chase a championship, and I’m confident the rest will take care of itself.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Alex Bowman holds the hardware that came with his breakthrough Cup Series victory, in the Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing