When the new-look Hendrick Motorsports rolled onto the track at Daytona two months ago, few expected Alex Bowman to emerge as the organization’s most consistent driver.
As the team transitions from a stable of experienced veterans to a young fleet of talent behind seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, many expected the 42-year-old to take charge.
However, the organization has faced uncharacteristic struggles. It has been especially rough for Johnson, who only had one top-10 finish of ninth at Auto Club Speedway before heading to Bristol Motor Speedway.
While Bowman hasn’t fared significantly better, he leads the team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, sitting 13th after eight races.
Two strong short-track performances put him in this position, with a seventh-place run at Martinsville and career-best fifth in Monday’s Food City 500.
“It’s been a lot of fun finally getting some good runs going our way,” Bowman said. “To run fifth, it’s not a great day, but it’s better than what we started the year doing.”
Seeing the 24-year-old perform best comes as a surprise considering the expectations many had for Chase Elliott and Johnson in 2018.
After closing in on his first career victory last fall, a breakout season from the No. 9 team seemed all but guaranteed and the No. 48 appeared primed to return to its dominant ways after a difficult 2017.
They have shown signs of promise early in 2018, each earning a third-place finish with Elliott at Phoenix and Johnson at Bristol.
However, they have also collected two DNFs a piece. Bowman has completed all events, which has provided the No. 88 team an early points advantage.
While Bowman and rookie William Byron haven’t been immune to the team’s struggles, they have performed better at times in comparison to their more seasoned teammates.
Bowman does have four more NASCAR Cup Series starts compared to Elliott, but his time behind the wheel of a competitive ride has been limited.
As a result, many didn’t know how to gauge Bowman’s performance ahead of the season.
Considering the slow start for the organization compared to the field, his consistency has been impressive and leaves room for improvement.
It’s remarkable that he is performing best among his teammates in his first full year behind the wheel for Hendrick Motorsports, but he’s looking to erase the surprise factor.
“Just thankful for driving for Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman said. “We are making progress, making steps in the right direction and just got to keep doing that.”
Progress is likely to continue on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway as the No. 88 team aims to build on their short track racing success.
Another strong run would further solidify the No. 88 team as the best car currently in the stable and raise Bowman’s profile as a consistent weekly contender.
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