Alex Bowman wrapped up his news conference in the Pocono Raceway media center and was exiting the stage when Daniel Suarez, waiting to begin his media obligations, offered a smile and laugh.
“You told me you were horrible all weekend,” Suarez remarked.
Bowman laughed and replied, “I was. I don’t know what happened.”
What happened was a top-10 run throughout the Gander Outdoors 400 that resulted in Bowman’s career-best finish of third. And it wasn’t that the car was bad, but Bowman felt it was slow. Bowman qualified 10th after winding up 19th and 22nd in the weekend’s two practice sessions.
It is also just the second top-five of his career and season. Bowman’s race effort Sunday eclipsed his previous best result of fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season.
“It’s a great day,” Bowman said. “For me, it’s more about my guys and the guys back at the shop. They work so hard, and there’s no ‑‑ like everybody works as hard as they possibly can, and is at 10/10 solid time, every team is like that.
“But when you start the year off like we have, we’ve asked a lot of people to step up and work that much harder every week, and good runs like this kind of make it worth it for them. So obviously a win would be much better, but to have all four of us [Hendrick cars] have pretty solid days it hopefully shows them that all their hard work is worth it because we’ve come a long way from where we started.”
Bowman was the highest-finishing Hendrick Motorsports driver. Rookie William Byron led laps and finished sixth — his career best as well — while Chase Elliott won stage one and finished seventh. Jimmie Johnson was running inside the top 10 until a rash of cautions late in the going, sending him to 17th.
For Bowman, a run like Sunday where he consistently moved up the leaderboard and earned points in both stages is a confidence booster.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself in this sport, and it’s been a rough two weeks,” said Bowman after crashing and finishing 35th in Kentucky and then 11th in New Hampshire. “Glad we had a good solid day today. I think the team will be pretty confident.
“Like I said, it proves to us and everybody else that we are getting better, so we know places that we’re going to for the second time we’re headed in the right direction.”
Now down to five races to go in the regular season, Bowman said he wouldn’t be scoreboard watching as the team focuses on maximizing their weekends. Bowman, holding down the last spot on the playoff grid, has a 56-point advantage on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.