Alex Bowman is finally a winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and the script couldn’t have been written any better.
Bowman, the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, led 88 laps in the Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. His first win came in his 134th start and after three consecutive second-place finishes earlier this season.
“It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life,” Bowman said on the frontstretch after getting his car stuck in the grass. “I feel like this is a lot of validation for a lot of people who said we couldn’t do this. So proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta, the Hendrick engine shop. My guys have worked so hard.
“We struggled so bad last year and the beginning of this year, and man, I had questions if Mr. H was going to let me keep doing this — all the rumor mills. But to be here winning a race in the Cup Series means so much.
“Just couldn’t do it without these guys. My crew is the best on pit road, and this is all I’ve ever wanted.”
After losing a comfortable lead of over three seconds to Kyle Larson inside the final 20 laps, Bowman then lost the top spot with eight laps to go. With Bowman running the high lane and Larson digging on the bottom, the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing driver got underneath Bowman in Turns 1 and 2 and then side-drafted him down the backstretch before taking the lead in Turn 3.
With six laps to go, though, Bowman did the exact same thing to retake the top spot — and then pulled away to the victory.
“I was just tired of running second,” Bowman 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, to validate my career. Obviously there’s a lot more left to accomplish, but this is always what I hear: ‘You haven’t won a race.’
“I think even Chad said something about me not winning a race, so Chad Knaus, there! We went and did it. Everybody can stop giving me crap; we finally did it.”
Larson finished second with Team Penske’s Joey Logano finishing third. Logano had put pressure on Larson through much of the final run before fading.
Jimmie Johnson led 10 laps and finished fourth while Brad Keselowski was fifth.
Ryan Blaney was sixth with Erik Jones seventh and William Byron eighth. Byron led nine laps early in the day.
Finishing ninth was Martin Truex Jr. and completing the top 10 was pole-sitter Austin Dillon, who also led nine laps early on.
“I could see him struggle when I was getting to him,” Larson explained, “and when I got by him, I was like, ‘All right, good, he’s going to be in my dirty air and get loose’. He could get big runs on me down the straightaways, and I think that allowed him to get that run into (Turn) 1, and he got to my inside and I got a little bit tight — I don’t know if him getting air on my spoiler or something got me tight, but I had to kind of breathe it a little bit, and then we side drafted on the backstretch.
“I wish I would have maybe done some things different into (Turn) 3 instead of going all the way to wall — maybe chase him to bottom, just try to hang on his quarter. But he might have cleared me anyways down there.
“But yeah, I wish I could have got a win for McDonald’s, got them to Victory Lane, but still a good day. Great day for Chevy and Hendrick engines.”
Bowman and Larson cycled to the top two spots after the race’s final pit stops which began with approximately 50 laps to go. Leading before pit stops began, Bowman had 2.5 seconds on Larson when the cycle completed, and it was over four seconds on Logano. After growing the lead, lapped traffic helped Larson and Logano go about cutting down the distance to Bowman.
One of the strongest cars all weekend, Bowman started eighth and was a fixture near the top of the leaderboard. His win was set up when the driver who led the most laps, Kevin Harvick, brought the caution out on Lap 173 after hitting the wall. Harvick led 132 laps but finished 14th.
Last year’s winner Kyle Busch had an up and down day. Busch started 17th and spent some time running inside the top 10, but had tire issues and smoke inside the car that doomed his day. Busch finished 22nd.
Two cars failed to finish: Quinn Houff retired with a mechanical issue while Clint Bowyer crashed on Lap 80 after blowing a right rear tire. Bowyer retired from the race after completing 172 laps.
Chicagoland had 23 lead changes between 13 drivers and five caution flags. The race was also red flagged after the first 11 laps and delayed for 3 hours, 18 minutes because of rain and high winds.