By Dylan Coyle
WHIP Radio Assistant Sports Director Dylan Coyle reports from Pocono Raceway on the latest in the Gander Outdoors 400 race weekend
It wasn’t that long ago when Alex Bowman was fighting to finish in the top-30 with BK Racing, and more recently, fighting to even secure a Cup Series ride.
Now, 21 races into his full-time gig with Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman has recorded eight top-tens and is coming off his highest-ever finish with a third-place at Pocono Raceway in the Gander Outdoors 400.
This year has been a struggle for Hendrick as a whole, but this weekend might serve as a turning point for the organization. Bowman finished 3rd, while William Byron finished 6th, Chase Elliott finished 7th, and Jimmie Johnson finished 17th. Johnson said on Saturday that the team is much happier with a strong run rather than a strong finish, as it can show progress. Bowman’s 3rd-place finish is one that he hopes the team can take some positives from.
“For me, it’s more about my guys and the guys back at the shop,” Bowman told WHIP Radio after the race on Sunday. “They work so hard, and there’s no… like, everybody works as hard as they possibly can, and is at 10/10s all the time. Every team is like that.”
Obviously, an answer like that is one that most should expect to hear after a race, but in Bowman’s case, it means more than just words. Hendrick has struggled, and that’s something that the team and organization as a whole recognizes.
“But when you start the year off like we have,” said Bowman, “we have 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.”
A win would’ve made it a lot sweeter, but that isn’t a realistic goal at the time. Progress, that key word, is what matters the most to Bowman and the people back at the race shop.
“So obviously, a win would be much better,” he said, “but to have all four of us 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.”
This season has turned into a two-man show (you can call it the “big three”, but Kevin Harvick’s and Kyle Busch’s cars are far ahead of Martin Truex Jr.’s at this point), so being happy with solid days like this really helps Bowman put things in perspective. After all, just to have a chance to fight at the top is more than he had a couple years ago.
Since Sonoma, Bowman has recorded five top-tens in seven races. After crashing out at Kentucky and an 11th-place finish at Loudon, his finish at Pocono serves as a large confidence-booster.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Bowman said after asking if the finish inspired more confidence for himself and the team. “It’s easy to get down on yourself in this sport, and it’s been a rough two weeks. Glad we had a good solid day today. I think the team will be pretty confident.”
With the second-half of the season now in full swing, the 88 team hopes to continue improving and find success at tracks they’ve previously raced at this season.
“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.”
Of the five remaining races in the regular season, the Cup Series will be returning to Michigan and Bristol, with Bristol being the site of Bowman’s fifth-place finish earlier this season. He currently sits in the final Playoff spot, 16th, 56 points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. While it’s nice that he has a sizable lead for that spot, being in that last transfer position leaves him susceptible to getting knocked out by a winner outside the current top-16. This is a worry for all of Hendrick Motorsports, as Johnson and Elliott sit 15th and 14th with safety nets of 107 and 129 points, respectively.
Nonetheless, the recent stretch of success for Bowman and Hendrick shows just how far they’ve come this season.
As for what Bowman’s plans were after leaving the track on Sunday, he excitedly had some things in mind.
“I’m ready to get some food, maybe take a nap, go home, see my dogs tonight. They don’t really care where I finish.”
Sounds like a good way to celebrate your career-best finish.
This article was written, researched, and published by WHIP Radio Assistant Sports Director Dylan Coyle. If you wish to interact with Dylan, you can reach him on Twitter at @DylanRCoyle.
Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images