When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series went into the Easter break, Alex Bowman and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team were afterthoughts. As the Cup Series now enters its All-Star Race weekend, the case could be made that Bowman, crew chief Greg Ives and the rest of the group are the hottest team in the series.
“Wish I could say I changed something, and we got way better,” Bowman tells RACER at Kansas Speedway.
In the first nine races, Bowman had an average finish of 18.3 with a best finish of 11th at Daytona and Las Vegas. Six times Bowman finished 15th or worse, and he had not led a lap.
In the last three weeks, Bowman’s average finish has been second because, well, he’s been the driver who finished second at Talladega, Dover, and Kansas. But Bowman has also led 86 laps in that span, and jumped nine positions in the point standings.
“It was a really rough start to the season, so being able to reset and regroup (during the off weekend was important),” says Bowman. “It’s been two really good weeks for us. Obviously, we want to capitalize on weeks like that and try to go win races, but to run second two weeks in a row isn’t bad, and we’ve just got to keep building on the momentum and heading in the right direction.”
Such a run has not only lifted the confidence and attitude within the team, but also within Bowman himself.
“It’s definitely a big boost,” he says. “When things start going wrong, it’s easy to doubt yourself or doubt those around you, so we kind of proved that we all know how to do this, and know how to contend for wins. We’re going to keep digging at it, and like I said, just trying to build on the momentum is the biggest thing, and keeping everything positive and rolling.”
Momentum is a very real thing according to any driver and team, and while Bowman has indeed grasped it, the question is how to build upon it. Bowman says that’s what he and the team are trying to figure out. Everything, he says, has “seemed to fall into place really well and working out really well” in addition to having really strong cars to drive. And perhaps the biggest piece to success has been that they are unloading strong on Fridays.
Maybe his finish at Talladega could be written off as superspeedway luck, and Bowman had the benefit of playing the manufacturer game in staying loyal to his Chevrolet teammates. In Dover though, Bowman drove through the field and had a car capable of leading and challenging those who have been familiar faces at the front from the Gibbs, Penske, and Stewart-Haas camps. Saturday night in Kansas solidified Bowman and the team’s ability to do that.
“That’s all just a really good race car,” Bowman says of the feeling of being able to run with those drivers. “I’m not doing anything different than I have been doing, so just really happy with the race cars they’ve been giving me. … It was a lot of fun. That’s (Dover) the first time I’ve had that much fun in a race car in a long time.
“(I’m) just trying to check all the boxes: Be in as good of physical shape I can be, eating the best I can, hydrating the best I can, doing a lot of vision work and reaction time. Stuff like that. Then the standard watching tapes, trying to figure out really what to watch. Everywhere this year is so different (because of the package); you can’t really go back and watch last year’s race and take things away from it. You’re almost watching more Truck stuff than anything, so just trying to check all the boxes. Have all the many bases covered. The physical stuff; I’ve definitely been working harder at than I ever have. I’m just trying not to leave any stone unturned.
“You always are measuring yourself against your teammates, because you have the same equipment or similar equipment and a lot of the same resources, but then also you’re obviously racing a bunch of other guys every week. So measuring yourself against the rest of the field is really important. We started the year, and we were OK, and then we fell off for a couple weeks pretty hard. Our teammates ran much better than us, and we didn’t do a very good executing; we knew we weren’t doing a good job, especially when we were getting outrun as bad as we were by our teammates. I’m glad we were somewhat able to turn around, and we just got to keep doing the best job we can all possibly do.”
After the All-Star Race, the Cup Series begins its tough summer stretch with upcoming races at Charlotte (the longest of the season), unique Pocono Raceway, then the fast and wide Michigan oval before encountering the first road course. Even though things have been going well in recent weeks, what needs to happen before Bowman really believes the 88 team has hit on something?
“We just need to be consistent,” he says. “We can’t have weeks like that and go finish 25th, and then get back in the top 10 and then go have a bad week. We just need to be consistent and executing how we should be.
“There are going to be things that happen outside of your control, but we need to do the best job we can at executing, and really consistency will be key.”