Now a winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Alex Bowman finally feels like he can say he belongs.
It’s something he’d say to those who might continue to question whether Bowman deserves to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Or those who wonder why Dale Earnhardt Jr. put his support behind Bowman to not only be his substitute when suffering from a concussion in 2016, but his successor in the No. 88 car. And it would be said to the critics who have been quick to point out that Bowman had never won a race or can’t get the job done at NASCAR’s top level.
Bowman recalled having heard all those such things last Sunday night after winning at Chicagoland. Heading into the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC), Bowman now shifts to working on winning “a bunch” more.
“It didn’t bother me that much, it just was a lot of motivation,” Bowman said when asked Thursday how much the criticism has bothered him. “Just having people say all the time that ‘You can’t do it’ (or) that ‘You haven’t done it’ is a good way to motivate me. So, if they want to keep saying it, I’m all good.
“I think it’s really easy to say you’re not supposed to read those articles or you’re not supposed to think about it or let it bother you, but I’m probably not as good as that as I should be, and I see that stuff all the time and just use it as motivation.”
It seems to worth repeating that following the Easter break it has been a tale of two seasons for Bowman. He and crew chief Greg Ives arrived at Talladega Superspeedway knowing they needed to play the Chevrolet teammate game, and it netted them a second-place finish to Hendrick Motorsports stablemate Chase Elliott. It was also their first top 10 finish of the season.
Then came another second a week later in Dover. And then another in Kansas. When the streak ended at Charlotte in late May, Bowman was inside the top 10. He clicked off a 10th two weeks later at Michigan and with his victory last weekend, Bowman now has six top 10 efforts over the previous eight races.
After failing to lead a lap in the season’s first nine races, Bowman has led 182 since Talladega.
“I think our intermediate program has been really strong for the last couple of months,” he said. “I think we can win each and every week. I think we can win this week. Any week we go to a racetrack right now, I feel like our cars are really capable of winning.”
And that has been the most crucial part about the run Bowman is on – proving it hasn’t been a fluke, which had been his concern. Three consecutive second-place finishes weren’t luck, and even without his Chicago triumph, Bowman is confident his team has turned the corner.
“You look at Talladega on for us we’ve been really strong everywhere,” he said. “Charlotte I knocked the wall down and still finished seventh. Pocono, we lost fourth gear, finished like 15th, and Sonoma we lost power steering and still finished top 15. Really those were our worst weeks, other than that we’ve been really solid everywhere.
“It’s been a lot of fun just to be able to be a little more consistent than we’ve been and have really fast race cars each and every week. I mean, to go to Sonoma and have speed throughout practice and drive it off the racetrack twice in qualifying and still make the final round somehow, for me that’s crazy. I’ve always struggled with making speed at road courses.
“So our cars are just so fast right now, and it’s a blast to be driving them.”