Bowman finds comfort zone inside and out of the 88

Image by Whitton/LAT

Bowman finds comfort zone inside and out of the 88

NASCAR

Bowman finds comfort zone inside and out of the 88

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Alex Bowman has been a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver before. Being a full-time Cup driver for Hendrick Motorsports is a little different, and Bowman is still getting comfortable in such a skin.

“It’s just a lot more media stuff and appearances I didn’t have in my other roles as a Cup driver,” Bowman tells RACER. “I stay a lot busier. Maybe work out a little more.”

Helping Bowman stay at ease are the appearances where he sees familiar faces. Earlier this week, Bowman was the center of attention in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as NASCAR’s driver representative for the series’ return to Michigan International Speedway next month.

Allies from Hendrick made sure Bowman knew where to be and when to be there while others documented his day. And with two members from the NASCAR media corps also along for the journey, Bowman appeared to be relaxed and enjoying the activities.

Bowman signed autographs, did numerous print interviews and television hits, and even served tamales from a food truck.

He also joined speedway president Rick Brenner in presenting a $1,000 check(through the MIS Cares program) to the Humane Society of West Michigan.

The only moment that caught Bowman unprepared came during an on-stage appearance in front of the gathered crowd. Wednesday, July 25, 2018, was declared Alex Bowman Day by Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, as presented by Second Ward Commissioner Joseph Jones.

“Oh my gosh” and “that’s ridiculous to me,” Bowman repeated a few times after a reading of the proclamation.

“It’s ridiculous to me,” Bowman explained of his reaction. “I think it’s funny — I was really caught off guard by that. Michigan is a random place to do it; I don’t have any ties there. It was interesting for sure.”

Some would say that has been Bowman’s life since the middle of 2016, when he went from unassuming and overlooked to the spotlight when he was named Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s substitute driver for the second half of the season because of Earnhardt’s concussions. A year later, Bowman was not only named Earnhardt’s successor but kept what had become one of the sport’s notable car numbers, 88.

Image by Whitton/LAT

Midway through this season, Bowman says he feels like this is now his and crew chief Greg Ives’ team. Some of the faces have also changed since last year, bringing an air of freshness to the group.

Bowman and Ives have bonded since working together in ’16, and now Bowman — who feels he and Ives are opposites — is rubbing off on Ives. Apparently, Bowman convinced Ives to ditch the Chevrolet Volt for a CTS-V (Cadillac).

“We get along really well and have a lot of fun together,” says Bowman.

His fan following is also growing. There was a group who flocked to Bowman when they spotted him arriving in Grand Rapids. Yes, they want an autograph, but some went as far as to tell Bowman how they feel about him and what it has been like seeing him progress this far.

What is Bowman’s take on interactions with the fans as a whole?

“Obviously a lot of people wanting us to run better, which I’m right there with them,” he said. “I totally understand that. We’ve got to get better. Like if I pull up Twitter right now, it’ll be 25 people [saying] so when are you guys going to start winning? So that’s really been the biggest thing.

“But a lot of Dale Jr. fans have stuck around, and that’s really cool. Got to meet a lot of them [in Grand Rapids], signed a lot of old 88 stuff, which was really cool. Just got to start running better and give them something to cheer for.”

Bowman, who climbs back behind the wheel at Pocono Raceway in the Gander Outdoors 400 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) clings to the final spot on the playoff grid. Six races remain in the regular season with Bowman’s advantage at 28 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

With seven top-10 finishes to date, Bowman has said a few times that there have been gains made in recent weeks. Asked where the gains are coming from and what has been going right, Bowman said everything overall, every part and piece of the car and how they work together.

Taking his Kentucky tire failure out of the equation, Bowman is working on a string of four consecutive weeks finishing 11th or better. Expectations were higher coming into the year, and now on the verge of moving into August, it does get frustrating being patient.

“It’s just part of it,” said Bowman. “Getting mad doesn’t really do you any good, so all you can do is be patient and give 100 percent on the racetrack, and try everything you can to get better.

“Problem is as we’re getting better everyone else is giving 100 percent and getting better, too. It’s definitely frustrating, but we’re doing everything we can to get better.”

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