After three of its four drivers had rough outings in the playoff-opening race at Darlington, it’s no surprise that Hendrick Motorsports’ team meeting this week didn’t have “a great mood” to it, according to Alex Bowman.
“But I feel like everybody is focused forward and working hard to be the best we can be at Richmond,” Bowman said. “It was one race. It’s one week. The playoffs, the way it goes, you have two bad weeks in one round, and you are kind of done. So, we know we have to be strong the next two weeks. But at the same time, we’ve been strong all year. I think there is a lot of confidence going forward that we can continue to do that.
“I think I’m probably the most frustrated of anybody, and that’s just because it was like blatantly my fault, right? I drove the car into the outside wall. I’m frustrated with myself that I did that and that I made that mistake, but I’m also frustrated that I hurt the 24’s [William Byron] day like it did. But the 24 and the 9 [Chase Elliott] kind of had things going outside of their own control. And then the 5 [Kyle Larson] had a good day. I think we all just know we need to be strong at Richmond.”
Bowman and Byron head into Saturday night at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) below the cutline. Bowman had trouble all night, from radio issues to the engine acting up during the pace laps and then the accident before the competition caution. He ran multiple laps down all night.
While Bowman is trying to keep his No. 48 team pumped up, he believes everyone knows how good they are. In the spring, Bowman won at Richmond.
“This Round of 16, with everybody having issues at Darlington, it’s not as bad as it could have been, the hole that we’re in,” he said. “I think we’re in an OK spot going forward. Not comfortable by any means, but if we just go do our jobs, we’ll be all right.”
Byron also ran well at Richmond earlier this year, which gives him hope for the same speed this time around. Byron DNF’d at Darlington after a flat tire resulted in a hard crash right before the end of the second stage.
“When I look at the playoffs for myself, it’s all about eliminating the big numbers,” said Byron. “Unfortunately, we had a big number this past weekend and not really of our making at all. Even the tire issue was just a one-in-a-thousand chance that a lug nut or something hits the inside of the valve stem on the inside of the tire and cuts down the inner liner. So, just a very freak kind of incident that we can’t really control. The guys did a good job bringing a fast car, number one; (then) fixing the car to make it still fast after the damage with the 48 (Bowman).
“I feel like for us, just going into Richmond, we just have to have a smooth race. We have the speed, and we have the ability. We were top three or four in points all season long. A lot of the reason for that was because of our consistency and speed. Those two things are things that are going to get you through each round. We’ve just got to focus on the next two races. We’re only nine points out of the cutline, and I feel like if we just do our jobs, we’re going to be plenty good. So, it is a lot different than last year.
“I felt like last year, not that I lucked into that Darlington finish, but I didn’t really run top-five all day and got a good finish at the end, and we knew, going into Richmond, we weren’t going to be very fast. At Bristol, we thought we were going to be OK and unfortunately, we got caught up with a lapped car. It’s just a lot different situation than last year, overall. Our team is a lot different. I feel like our speed is very good. So, we are very capable of advancing through the round.”