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NASCAR Cup Series

Bowman Confident Heading Into Vegas

LAS VEGAS — For the second straight year, Alex Bowman is a NASCAR playoff driver. Though not everything is the same,  as Bowman enters the final 10-race stretch with something he did not have a season ago.

A race win.

That, along with four top-five’s and seven top-10’s during the regular season have the driver of the No. 88 is feeling good heading into the playoffs.

“I think I definitely feel more confident,” Bowman told POPULAR SPEED. “I think a lot of it just comes from the speed that we’ve shown throughout the year and even lately we’ve had great speed, we just haven’t really had much to show for it. So, I think we have as good of a shot at anybody or as anybody going and winning a couple of races here and making a big statement in the playoffs.”

He will look to improve upon his first playoff appearance, where he was eliminated in the Round of 12, and a 29th at Homestead-Miami Speedway resulted in him finishing 16th in the final standings.

In order to improve, Bowman will need to find his early-season momentum back, as since the Arizona-native’s win at Chicagoland Speedway, he has only had one top-10 in the nine races that have followed.

However, this weekend may provide a good chance for a breakthrough, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a race that is expected to transition from day to night.

These are the types of races that Bowman has excelled at, with a second-place finish at Kansas Speedway, seventh at the Coca-Cola 600, and his previously mentioned win at Chicagoland.

With his recent history, it’s more than understandable why he is excited about this weekend’s race.

“This is a race we’ve had circled regardless of the playoff situation and I think we can be really strong,” Bowman said. “We were strong here in the spring and knocked the right rear off of it, kind of had to fight back from that. So, I think our mile and a half program’s really good and that same car we were in Chicago with. I’m really confident.”

A strong finish this weekend for the 88 team would be huge, as he only starts the playoffs as the ninth seed with only a four-point cushion over 13th.

With all the being said, it will be interesting to see if Bowman can take a season that has already been his best, and make it even better.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Foxwoods Casino Resort 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NASCAR has continued striving for a better racing package to put on more entertaining shows for their fans. The feedback has been simple – ditch the intermediate tracks for the tighter ovals on the schedule.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway was a perfect example on Sunday afternoon.

Although the field was spread out at times throughout the afternoon, there was always at least one battle for position within the top-10 to keep an eye on. By laying down the PJ1 traction compound in the separate lanes, it allowed drivers to get their cars working high or low to challenge each other.

There was also varying strategy played with earning stage points versus trying to set yourself up for a good finish and tire wear, which kept things interesting with a variety of drivers finding their way to the front at times.

Oh, and there was also the finish between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin to cap it off.

Lap cars can be thanked for bringing the pair closer together, but that’s all part of the long-run racing in how you handle the traffic. Harvick, using some of his short track skills, kept the advantage by slowing down a touch sooner than expected and taking the preferred line that Hamlin would have wanted.

On the same coin, Hamlin does earn respect in how he handled the situation. He gave Harvick a bump in turn one, but just enough to get scoot him out of the groove a little and not wreck him. Notice the difference in crowd reaction compared to how he handled Martinsville Speedway a couple years ago with Chase Elliott.

Now if Hamlin does take the bottom lane in turn three, how much harder does the bump go? Would it have made a difference at the end of day?

As Hamlin continues to ponder that through the next couple of days, the fans can relive the finish over and know that they got a show. Realistically, New Hampshire delivered all weekend if you were watching the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series with a three-wide finish to their all-star event on Friday. 

Though moving forward, a lot of eyes now fall on Harvick. The biggest surprise was the fact that he had yet to win this season – until now. How does a threat for the championship the past couple years not score a single win?

With the door opened on Sunday afternoon and the stretch of tracks ahead on the schedule, it’d be no surprise to see the Stewart-Haas Racing go on a terror moving forward. After all, the speed has been there all year, pacing over 80 laps in three races this season with 12 top-10’s. 

The flip side has to be Hendrick Motorsports. The organization saw three cars get wrecked in practice and qualifying leading up to the event, followed by both Elliott and Jimmie Johnson having water pump belt issues during the event. Alex Bowman, who admitted that he hates New Hampshire due to past struggles there, ran in the top-10 late in the event en route to a 14th-place finish – the highest of their four drivers. 

Now with the amount of races in the regular season counting down, Johnson sits outside of the playoffs following back-to-back 30th-place finishes. Meanwhile, Elliott who is locked in via his win at Talladega Superspeedway, has failed to score a top-10 in the last six events.

While it appeared their struggles were behind them a couple months ago with all four drivers running well, they are certainly losing momentum at the most crucial time.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Alex Bowman earns first Monster Energy Cup win with late-race theatrics at Chicagoland

JOLIET, Ill. – Alex Bowman’s first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory at Chicagoland Speedway was as much a lesson in perseverance, determination and guts as it was a show of his raw talent. It took it all those qualities for the 26-year-old to reach Victory Lane for the first time in Sunday’s Camping World 400.

Bowman’s No.88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet held off a hard-charging Kyle Larson for the win by .546-seconds – the two young drivers door-to-door in the closing laps, exchanging the lead twice in the final eight laps of the race.

Reigning Cup champion, Team Penske’s Joey Logano rallied to a third place finish, leading Bowman’s teammate Jimmie Johnson and Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney to the checkered flag.

During his inaugural victory lap celebration, the Tucson, Arizona, native Bowman drove into the track’s infield still soggy from rain showers that delayed the race finish by nearly three hours. Despite the good celebratory intentions, Bowman’s Chevrolet stuck there, but the good vibes of the night resumed when he climbed out and climbed onto the car’s roof, waving to the cheering crowd and taking in the moment as a first-time race winner.

“It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life,’’ Bowman said after climbing down off his car’s roof.

“I’m just tired of running second, didn’t want to do that anymore,’’ he said smiling in reference to his three runner-up finishes in the first 16 races of this season.

And he had a good laugh about his stuck-in-the-mud car as he navigated the mucky infield to walk across the track and take the checkered flag he earned.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race but got the car stuck in the mud.’’

Actually Bowman’s win was an impressive display of drive – both figuratively and literally. His NASCAR career essentially got a “second chance” at glory, when he was hired by the championship Hendrick team to replace the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the famed No. 88 last year. He had competed fulltime at the Cup level in 2014-15 in a car that was not considered competitive, hoping to gain experience.

He was hired by Hendrick in 2016 to drive Earnhardt’s No. 88 while the sport’s star rehabbed from injury. Bowman then sat out a year of full-time Cup competition in 2017 as Earnhardt finished out his own decorated career. The car was all Bowman’s as of last year.

Earnhardt, who was part of the NBCSN broadcast team that officially took over the NASCAR Cup Series race broadcasts from partner FOX just his week, was understandably proud in the broadcast booth.

“I’m just so happy for Alex,’’ Earnhardt said. “I’ve seen a majority of his career up close and I’m so happy to see him achieve his dream.’’

Certainly Bowman’s victory Sunday night was not only a shot of emotional adrenalin for himself, but for the whole Hendrick Motorsports team. In addition to Johnson, second-year driver William Byron finished eighth and Chase Elliott finished 11th – the first time this season all four drivers have finished among the top 11. Bowman (88), Johnson (10) and Byron (nine) all led laps.

The big lap leader on the day was Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick, who led a race-best 132 circuits and won Stage 2, but finished 14th after hitting the outside wall late in the race.

For runner-up Larson, the outcome was obviously disappointing since he finished second last year after a tough last-laps battle with Kyle Busch. But the popular Californian seemed genuinely happy for his friend Bowman as well.

“I was actually surprised I even got to him,’’ said Larson, who took the lead from Bowman for two laps on lap 260.

“I thought when he came out about the same distance off pit road in front me, I thought he was just going to check out. But like I said, he was struggling and we were able to get to him and get by him, but did a good job. He did a good job regrouping and figuring out how to make his car driver better and got the win.

“Cool to see him get the win there. Would have liked for him to have to wait another week or so, but happy for him,’’ Larson added with a grin.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Analyzing Hendrick Motorsports Halfway Through The Season

When the checkered flag waved in Sonoma Raceway, Joe Gibbs Racing saw its tenth win of the 2019 season as Martin Truex Jr. crossed the finish line 1.861 seconds ahead of teammate Kyle Busch. Additionally, they had  three of their four fielded cars finishing in the top five and all four finishing in the Top-10.

What about Hendrick Motorsports? To find the highest scoring Chevy Camaro from their  stable, you’ll have to look back to the twelfth position where seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson wound up. Not to say all four cars didn’t run a good race.

William Byron started from second and led every lap in stage one to capture his first stage win of 2019. Chase Elliott was running well inside the topfive for a large portion of the race and led three laps before an engine failure sent him to the garage. Johnson and Alex Bowman even had themselves strong showings running in the Top-10 for a while.

“What went wrong with Hendrick Motorsports?” This is the question that has been asked since the 2018 season and the answer is simple – they can’t put together a complete race.

Qualifying? Sure, Hendrick Motorsports drivers have sped their way to six poles, eight front row starts and have even swept the top-two spots four times this season. So it’s proven they can begin  a race off the right way, but starting and finishing are two completely different things.

Through 16 points races, Hendrick Motorsports has one win, 10 Top-fives and 22 Top-10s. This of course contrasted to Joe Gibbs Racing’s 10 wins, 27 top fives and 42 Top-10s through that same span.

Once upon a time, both Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing were the dominant teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Here’s a breakdown of the four Hendrick Motorsports driver’s with their strengths, weaknesses, rest of the season outlook and where to expect their next win.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Alex Bowman 

Bowman turned heads back in 2016 when he won the pole for the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway and finished sixth while driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had been sidelined with a concussion. He then earned himself a full-time ride in the No. 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports when the 16-time most popular driver retired following the 2017 season. Bowman would go on to have a less than stellar campaign in 2018 which carried over early on in 2019.

Bowman has once again captured the attention of NASCAR fans, as he has become arguably the most consistent driver over the last 10 races. In that time, Bowman has has successfully driven himself to five top-10 finishes, including three consecutive runner-up finishes.

A win seems imminent for the Tucson, Arizona native and it’s quite possible that Bowman will be the next Hendrick Motorsports driver to see victory lane. His next best shot? Daytona International Speedway in two weeks. In six races at the 2.5-mile track, Bowman has one pole, one Top-10 finish and has led 14 laps. To be fair, most of Bowman’s attempts at the famed superspeedway were cut short by wrecks, as is the case with most drivers. Never count Bowman out in a plate race; after all, he has superspeedway legend Earnhardt Jr. to lean on for advice.

MATTHEW T. THACKER | NKP

William Byron

Byron came into Cup Series hot after winning the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series title in his rookie season and then taking over driving duties for the famed No. 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports. Much like the organization as a whole, Byron fell victim to strong starts with failure to put together a complete race in the 2018 campaign. This year, Byron has seen slight improvements with the help from seven-time championship crew chief, Chad Knaus.

It seems as if every week the No. 24 team unloads a fast Chevy Camaro and Byron is a lock to set the quick time in qualifying. Byron began the 2019 season starting from the pole in the Great American Race and is tied with Kevin Harvick for the most poles this season with three. Byron has also qualified on the front row an additional four times. Starting up front obviously has its perks as Byron has led a total of 171 laps this season and captured his first stage win of 2019 at Sonoma, bringing his stage points total to 81 through 16 races.

There’s no doubt that Byron has seen improvements coming off of an average 2018 season, but the theme remains the same– the No. 24 team can’t put together a full race. Whether it’s a pit stop or failing to keep up with changing track conditions, Byron just can’t seem to keep it up front towards the later stages of an event. He is knocking on the door for a win and with a crew chief like Chad Knaus it’s safe to expect a win sooner, rather than later.

Byron’s next best opportunity to win also resides in Daytona. In just three starts at Daytona, Byron has one pole and has led 56 laps. The results may not show just yet, but Byron is a heck of a plate racer. The way he moves through traffic could be compared to the man who drove the No. 24 car before him – Jeff Gordon. Byron is bound for superstardom and you get the feeling that once he gets that first elusive win, things will start to click– much like teammate Chase Elliott.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Chase Elliott

It could be argued that up to this point that Elliott has been the lone bright spot for this once elite race team. The Cup Series reigning most popular driver leads Hendrick Motorsports in just about every category this season. Not to mention, he has a personality that NASCAR fans of young and old can get behind.

Elliott notched his first win of the season at Talladega Superspeedway  and is the only Hendrick Motorsports car with a win this year. He is actually the only car within the team that has won a points race since the start of 2018. Through 16 races, Elliott leads the organization with 406 laps led, six top-five’s, and seven Top-10s  The only other teammate to have him bested in a single category is Byron, who leads the Cup Series with three poles (Elliott is not far behind with two).

Elliott’s next best shot at a win is essentially anywhere. He is up there every week with the best of them and is always in contention for a win.

NIGEL KINRADE | NKP

Jimmie Johnson

If you had told NASCAR fans in 2017 that after Johnson scored his third win of the season at Dover International Speedway, that he would go on a winless streak that has spanned over two years, they would call you crazy– yet here we are.

After starting 2019 winning the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, nothing has gone right for the seven-time champion. Following a winless 2018 season, the iconic driver/crew chief duo of Johnson and Knaus split, bringing aboard JR Motorsports crew chief Kevin Meendering to the No. 48 team. Johnson has shown brief glimmers of hope and improvement as we near the halfway point  but it seems as if once they take one step forward, they take two steps back.

Johnson only has one top five finish this season and has only led 68 laps through 16 races. On the bright side, he has one pole and six Top-10 finishes. Its not to say Johnson and the No. 48 team don’t have speed as they have shown that, but there are mechanical issues, pit road mis-ques and other abstract incidents that prevented him from garnering a proper finish.

Being a seven-time champion, Johnson knows that putting together a complete race is what breeds success. If the No. 48 team can work out these kinks and silly mistakes, they could be in position to turn their season around. You’d like to think that Johnson and the No. 48 team can turn things around, but could this just be the product of an aging legend?

With 10 races remaining before the playoffs, Johnson sits one point below the cut line. While this is a minuscule margin with a healthy amount of races remaining, he should be not only racing for stage points, but wins as well. It’s tough to say when Johnson  could be in line for his next win. Statistics should say as early as this weekend at Chicago, but that’s not the case.

Realistically, you have to look seven weeks ahead to Michigan International Speedway. This is a track which has been both a friend and foe to Johnson. While he only has one win in the Irish Hills, this is one of Johnson’s stronger tracks and he leads all active drivers with 700 laps led at the two-mile speedway.  It should be noted that Johnson was in line for quite a handful of wins at Michigan until multiple last lap incidents prevented him from winning.

Elliot is currently the only Hendrick Motorsports driver locked into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Bowman sits 10th in the standings, 69 points above the cut line. Byron is 14th in the standings, just 31 points above Johnson who is just outside the playoff picture. Can Hendrick Motorsports turn things around at the halfway point? Only time will tell.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowman Closing In On First Career Victory

The first nine races of 2019 were forgettable for Alex Bowman; however, the last two have the No. 88 team looking good.

At Talladega Superspeedway, the 26-year-old finished runner-up to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, scoring his first top-five of the season. However, it will be what he accomplished Monday at Dover International Speedway that will get people talking.

Bowman, who failed pre-race inspection and had to start the Gander RV 400 from the rear, quickly worked his way through the field, finishing seventh in Stage 1.

Although impressive, it was the second stage that solidified him as a contender.The Arizona-native would come close to his first playoff point ever, before being passed by eventual race-winner Martin Truex Jr in the closing moments of the stage.

Bowman would remain near the front for the rest of the day, before capturing a second-place finish. While a great recovery, the Hendrick Motorsports driver still wanted more despite the result.

“It would be better if we had a trophy, right?” Bowman said. “But, we needed this, for sure. Talladega is a speedway and it’s a lot of luck involved. But to come here to, in my opinion, the hardest race track we go do, and run like that from the back of all things, was pretty special. I’m just proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for all the improvement we’ve made over the last year or so and we’re going to keep it going.”

If he is able to continue the momentum, Bowman may not have to wait long for his first taste of winning in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. In fact, this recent surge may be coming at the perfect time given his recent history.

The upcoming summer stretch proved to be critical for Bowman a year ago, with six top-10’s during the time from Kansas Speedway to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The strength shown during this time would go on to earn him a spot in the playoffs. The upcoming schedule is identical to 2018 and could set up perfectly for the No. 88 team.

It would not be the first time a Hendrick team caught fire and found victory lane, just look at Bowman’s teammate. Elliott, last year found himself in a similar position, often falling just shy of victory lane before winning three races later in the season.

The question is  can Bowman do the same? If Monday is an indication of where this team is at, then the answer should be yes, though time will tell if he is able to turn this success into consistency.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

From the Couch to the Playoffs for Bowman

This time last season, Alex Bowman was not even in a race car. But in just about a year, the 25-year-old from Tucson, Arizona is going to be competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs for Hendrick Motorsports.

While most are still talking about the big three or Team Penske’s momentum going into the playoffs, we cannot forget that the Hendrick boys are in there as well.

Going into the season, Bowman had big shoes to fill after replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and has fully taken advantage of it. He may not have captured a win yet, but two top-five and nine top-10 finishes led Bowman to make the Playoffs in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports.

“Yeah, it’s a long way from the couch,” Bowman said. “It’s cool to be a part of it and just hopefully we can do more than just be a part of it, but make noise in it. We have had a rough couple of weeks and really a rough year, but we have been getting much faster and if we can just capitalize on that it will be good.”

Although Hendrick Motorsports got off to the season with a slow start, they have picked it up a bit. Bowman’s teammate Chase Elliot captured his first career Cup Series win at Watkins Glen and Jimmie Johnson quietly made the Playoffs.

At some points of the season, it has seemed like Bowman had the best speed out of the Hendrick organization after having a strong summer beginning with three straight top-10 runs at Sonoma, Chicago, and Daytona, and finishing third at the tricky triangle of Pocono.

“Yeah, absolutely, I think we have definitely gotten better over the course of the year and especially here lately. We’ve got the best in the business back at Hendrick Motorsports trying to accelerate that process a little bit, but I’m confident we can continue to improve.” Bowman said.

The past few weeks have not gone so well for the No. 88 capturing two finishes outside of the top-20, but the excitement and enthusiasm of being a part of NASCAR’s elite series Playoffs may give them a boost.

There is no doubt that Hendrick Motorsports is one of the best in the business; but when it comes to the Playoffs, they sure do have a history of capitalizing. Since 2006, Hendrick Motorsports has won seven championships, so we cannot count them out just yet.

“I think we have made pretty dramatic improvements from where we started the year. Bowman said. “It’s too good of a company to keep down. We have too many good people and great resources. I think we will continue to improve and I think we can start off the Playoffs with some good runs.”

With consistent and strong runs like he had in the summer, Bowman may be threat for race wins which can lead to a surprise championship run.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MrBrandonRivero

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Brickyard 400

Admittedly going into the Big Machine Vodka Brickyard 400 on Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I was expecting a snoozefest. However, the race actually was solid throughout from beginning to end.

Throughout the event, whether battles on the track for position or strategy, there was always something to keep your focus and intrigue as to what would happen next. Combined with a thrilling battle for the win, and you can certainly give you the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event a B+.

Denny Hamlin trying to hold on with his old tires, combined with Brad Keselowski coming through with four new Goodyears saw the pair battle side-by-side on a restart with three laps to go. They may have rubbed each other – but hey, rubbin’ is racing, right? But nobody wrecked each other, and there’s a highlight reel to take moving forward.

The contact, along with the late-race cautions left Hamlin frustrated, obviously, as he stated that the yellows were caused by “meaningless” drivers in the back half of the field. To those drivers, every position matters – just like for you at the front. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as planned.

Even without the late-race caution, the race had delivered to that point as previously mentioned. You had drivers moving forward their forward, as well as those falling back further in the pack. There was even a battle shaping up for the win between Hamlin and Clint Bowyer at that time, too.

Notably, restarts produced the biggest excitement as they always do due to the space at Indianapolis. Therefore, concern was there about when we got into long runs, especially when you have Dale Earnhardt Jr. saying, “As the laps go, the tires get hotter, and the pass gets harder,” but that still held some interest. Cue Bowyer’s hard work to get second mid-race as that took awhile in setting Kurt Busch up, but he did get the job done.

Though if you tuned in at the beginning, you may have been ready to turn it off quickly with the scheduled cautions. It had me flashing back to the Indianapolis race where they threw a caution like every 15-20 laps due to tire issues. With the stage cautions that are already there every week, only one competition caution was needed at the beginning rather than two. Then if they saw tire issues at Lap 10 (or say 15 if changed), they could easily have added another.

Other Observations to Consider……

Kevin Harvick proved why he is one of the drivers in the “big three” as he fought back to a fourth-place finish despite a pair of pit road issues. But has the big three turned into the dynamic duo? Following a brake issue on Monday, Martin Truex Jr. will enter the playoffs with four straight finishes outside of the top-10. Could the announcement about Furniture Row Racing’s demise be affecting things deeper than originally thought?

By the way, it was Kyle Busch winning the regular season championship after finishing eighth following a pair of issues throughout the day, including a late-race flat tire. He and Harvick will enter the playoffs tied at the top of the standings. Let the games begin.

Alex Bowman may be the last driver getting into the playoffs, and his team will need some momentum fast if they’re going to upset the projections. The only problem is he has finished the last two races outside of the top-20. it seems the momentum Hendrick Motorsports was gaining is slowly fading away again as Chase Elliott was their highest finisher in 15th.

It is worth noting, though, that Elliott ran in the top-10 most of the day until a late-race decision to pit by Alan Gusfatson while the top-10 stayed out. That same decision to pit won Keselowski the race, though. 

– You can’t blame Jamie McMurray for trying to pull the hail marry by not pitting with 17 laps to go to restart third to try and make the playoffs as you find out your kicked out of your ride for 2019. He still walked out of there with a top-10, anyway, placing seventh. 

If you missed it, the Associated Press opened the day by reporting that Chip Ganassi told them that McMurray will not be in the No. 1, but has been offered a ride for the Daytona 500 and another position within the team. 

– Nobody expected Matt Kenseth to get a stage win, but that’s what he did today after Roush Fenway Racing found themselves running in the top-10 throughout the entire first half of the race. The past series champion just missed the mark at the end of the day, though, placing 12th. 

Darrell Wallace Jr. also had a brake failure for the second time this season, and continues his streak of no top-15’s since Daytona International Speedway in July. Remember all the hype that he began the year with?

– Another week of NBCSN choosing when to go to commercial wrong as discussed plenty times before. Who goes to break with just five laps complete? They could’ve also showed the middle portion of the field when they were three-wide after the top 13 drivers stayed out while the rest pitted, rather than showing the single-file top-seven competitors.

– Having a driver’s on-board camera available for viewing via Twitter the whole race is a good way to promote the sport. Now how about we get that available to everybody worldwide rather than just based on people’s locations?

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Sonoma Momentum Puts Elliott Closer to Victory

The focus placed on Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet through the first 16 races of 2018 has centered around their struggles.

The manufacturer’s lone victory came with Austin Dillon in the DAYTONA 500 as they continue to show growing pains associated with the new Chevrolet Camaro body style in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

However, Chase Elliott’s season, especially over the past two months, tells a different story.

A fourth-place finish Sunday at Sonoma Raceway was Elliott’s fifth top-10 in the last eight races.

While he hasn’t yet competed for victories like he did at the conclusion of 2017, the month of June marked significant progress in the right direction.

He captured three top-10 finishes, marking the longest streak of the season for the No. 9 team as they head to Elliott’s strongest track, Chicagoland Speedway.

In two starts, the 22-year-old has never finished worse than third and led multiple laps in each race.

While his second-place finish was ruled encumbered after last September’s playoff opener, the performance mirrored his run as a rookie and showed his skill at the 1.5-mile track.

It’s a place where he excelled in the NASCAR Xfinity Series as well, scoring a victory in his first career start at the speedway in July 2014 behind the wheel for JR Motorsports.

A strong showing in Sunday’s Overton’s 400 would be extremely timely for Elliott and Chevrolet as a whole.

Mirroring Toyota’s performance from the second half of 2017 is an attainable goal for Chevrolet teams. Toyota struggled for the first half of the year with their new Camry body before dominating beginning in July and going onto capture the championship with Martin Truex Jr.

A turnaround must be mounted now for Chevrolet to see a similar scenario unfold and emerge as a weekly threat. 

While Sonoma’s road course layout doesn’t allow for an accurate performance measurement, it can demonstrate momentum and Hendrick Motorsports is gaining it heading into the summer stretch.

Placing Elliott, Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson in the top-11 in Northern California marked much-improved results for the organization.

Now Elliott can continue to lead the HMS climb with another impressive outing at Chicagoland.

He has been on the cusp of his first win for years now but his best opportunity may present itself on Sunday and could put HMS and Chevrolet in a position for a second-half resurgence.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowman Leading the Charge for Hendrick So Far in 2018

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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EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Everything may be bigger in Texas, and that includes the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 because the twists and turns never stopped all day long. 

After coming close on multiple occasions this year, Kyle Busch was finally able to make it happen, holding off Kevin Harvick in the final stages en route to victory. However, we didn’t say he had the most dominant car as that would go to Harvick.

Harvick could’ve made it easier on himself and had a substantial gap over the field for most of the day and cruised away, but pit road mistakes slowed progress. A lug nut stuck the jack caused a delay on one stop, along with a crew member falling over the wall trying to retrieve a tire for too many men on pit road infraction. That didn’t leave crew chief Rodney Childers happy, displaying his displeasure in NASCAR’s new pit gun procedure in saying, “At some point, we have to get these guns better, and I’m tired of biting my lip so far.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing team rebounded for a runner-up but also got lucky in a decision that NASCAR made. Their final pit stop should’ve seen them handed another infraction for an uncontrolled tire, but officials didn’t make the call. Even NASCAR admitted they were wrong post-race, releasing a statement stating, “It was a judgment call, and after conducting a post-race review of the incident an uncontrolled tire penalty for the four-car would have been correct. We missed that call.”

They got a lucky today, and they certainly have the speed but have to clean up the pit road issues if they’re going to mount a charge for a title. But for now, Harvick will go home frustrated after “an absolutely pathetic two days on pit road” as he also fought similar issues in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race. 

You have to give a shout-out to Ryan Blaney for rebounding from a pit road penalty and front end damage for a top-five.

The other side of the coin saw Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson both made substantial contact with the wall, following tire issues. Certainly not what neither driver wanted after the early season momentum and something to think about moving forward. Was it due to going to aggressive on their set-up? 

Alex Bowman also didn’t have the day he wanted, spinning around on Lap 2 and spending multiple laps in the garage fixing a suspension issue. However, his teammates William Byron and Chase Elliott proved that Hendrick Motorsports is on the road to turning it around. Byron scored his first career top-10, and Elliott ran up front until getting trapped a lap down with green flag pit stops, and Alan Gustafson brought Elliott down pit road sooner than allowed for a pitting too soon infraction. 

If you combine everything, there’s one thing for sure – we’re setting up for an excellent season.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.