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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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Winning is the Message Byron Looks to Send at Daytona

A long tradition of racing in July at Daytona International Speedway comes to an end Saturday night after the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Last year, we saw Erik Jones capture his first career victory in NASCAR’s top division of racing. It was an emotional celebration for Jones, but this season may mean much more to the winner of this famed race.

The weekend got off to a hot start as drama in final practice on Thursday between William Byron and Brad Keselowski has been the buzz of the weekend. Byron blocked Keselowski and nearly was turned, but he was able to grab control and save his race car.

Although Byron is heading to a backup car, he has shown experience and aggression at the superspeedways. Coming off a top-10 finish at Chicagoland Speedway, he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates come to Daytona with a bit of momentum.

Last weekend, Alex Bowman grabbed his first career win at Chicago. Not only that, all of the Hendrick Motorsports machines finished in the top-11, something we rarely saw the season before.

The speed for Byron is not a surprise at Daytona. The second year driver grabbed the Daytona 500 pole in February, but wrecked out of the “Great American Race.” After the practice incident with Keselowski, Byron felt some displeasure from the former champion.

“It’s practice,” said Byron. “I don’t think that was really necessary to turn us there…I didn’t really expect that, but that’s all right. It wasn’t like I changed four lanes down the backstretch and blocked him. I was just kind of holding my lane, and he just used his run to drive into my left rear.”

Keselowski obviously had another take on the incident as it seemed like he was trying to teach the 21-year-old a superspeedway lesson.

“Just had a big run,” Keselowski said after the incident. “He put me in a position where I had to lift, and I keep telling these guys I’m not lifting. Just trying to send a message. I’m not lifting. I’m tired of getting wrecked at these (superspeedway) tracks. They’re all watching. They know.”

Keselowski clearly sent him a message after Byron had to go to a back up car. But his actions and words after the practice session did not intimidate the Charlotte, North Carolina native. In fact, Byron still feels confident and knows he has a strong team behind his back.

“It doesn’t bother me because I’m driving the car at the end of the day and I still have an opportunity to do that,” Byron said. “My team backs me. And, the confidence that comes from my team to know that they support me is all that I need. So, I think I’ve said this other times. I don’t care to have him as a friend or anything, so I don’t really need other people’s approval. So, I can still have a clean race car to go race on Saturday and hopefully go win the race.”

The Hendrick boys look continue their run as we inch towards the playoffs. They are the only Chevrolet team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to win a race this year and hope to have all their drivers in the post-season. As for Saturday night’s thriller under the lights, they plan on working together to put one of them in victory lane.

“We’re going to work really well together,” Byron said. “All the Chevrolet guys worked well together at Talladega. Unfortunately I wasn’t in on the good side of that. I got wrecked late in the race. But, I feel like this weekend will be a great chance for us to work together and hopefully with where we are in points, we can hopefully go for a win and try to get as many points as possible. But really, we want to win this race.”

Surviving Daytona on Saturday is one of the keys to success at the historic track and after a rocky start to the weekend, Byron plans to end it with his first win and a ticket to the playoffs.

“I honestly feel like we should be contending for the win at the end.”

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

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.

 

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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

New Crew Chief Aboard, Johnson Continues to Struggle

A big question entering the 2019 season was will Jimmie Johnson be able to rebound with a new crew chief, and after six races, we are still asking the same question.

Partnered with Kevin Meendering, the year started off hopeful with a win in The Clash and a top-10 in the Daytona 500; however the No. 48 team has since gone downhill yet again, with one top-15 in the following five races.

The most disappointing result came this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where his starting position of 11th was the closest to the top-10 he would be all race. Johnson finished 16th in Stage 1, and 23rd in Stage 2, seeming to fall further back as the STP 500 went on. He would eventually end the day two laps down in 24th.

The veteran did not menace words in a post-race tweet saying, “Yesterday was a rough one, there’s no way around it. It’s a new day and a day we are using to become stronger.”

The real kicker though?

Not only did he tie his worst finish of the year, but his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate, Chase Elliott, proved to be one of the best cars in the field, coming home in the runner-up position.

Now, to Johnson’s credit, the Hendrick cars have seemed behind this year. After all, Elliott’s second-place is the first top-five all season for the organization, which is concerning in its own right. However, this is a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, one of the best the sport has ever seen, continuing to struggle, and not due to any lack of effort either.

The team made efforts to do better this season, which included the separation of Johnson from his longtime crew chief, Chad Knaus, replacing him with Meendering. It was a move that could be argued needed to be done for both, and not the first time a legendary Hendrick driver has moved on despite success from a team member; see the career of Jeff Gordon.

Now, it’s still early in the season, and the duo of Johnson and Meendering are still probably developing a bond and there is the possibility that we are just seeing growing pains, and everything will be better eventually. However, the fact the 2019 No. 48 crew is still seeing the same struggles the 2018 team.

It would be easy to say that they have a chance of rebounding at the upcoming tracks on the schedule, but you could have said the same thing about Martinsville, where he had won nine times.

So, what now?

There was an old saying in NASCAR a few years ago and it went like this never count out Jimmie Johnson.

You still shouldn’t, but at the same time, the current status of the No. 48 is alarming to say the least.

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Byron’s DAYTONA 500 Pole Draws Parallels to Johnson and Knaus

Seventeen years ago this month, a pair of the most formidable sports dynasties of this century began with two of the most successful athlete and coach pairings of all-time.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick paired for their first full-time season together in 2001 with the New England Patriots, then going on to win its first Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2002.

One week later, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus began their tenure together by claiming the 2002 DAYTONA 500 pole in Johnson’s fourth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.

Both feats came as upsets in their individual sports and also marked the start of two historic runs.

Each duo has since gone onto win a record number of championships and earn their places among the best of all-time.

Seventeen years later to the exact dates, Brady and Belichick claimed their sixth championship and one week later, Knaus again led the DAYTONA 500 pole-winning team.

However, this time it was with another young racer as Knaus begins his first season with William Byron after moving on from the seven-time championship-winning No. 48 team with Johnson.

Knaus began his career with Johnson by claiming the top starting spot in the “Great American Race” and now Byron has followed suit with Knaus calling the shots.

While one pole at a superspeedway doesn’t indicate much, reflecting on the significance of the achievement in Johnson and Knaus’ careers opens the possibilities for Byron to replicate that success.

Byron entered his rookie year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last season as one of the most promising talents to emerge out of the developmental ranks in years. He dominated during his time in the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, winning a combined 11 races in two seasons and taking the 2017 Xfinity Series championship.

Prospects for the 21-year-old were high entering the premiere level but tougher competition and a steeper learning curve tempered expectations.

While the Hendrick Motorsports driver didn’t dominate in his first year as he had in the other two series, he showed signs of strength and won rookie of the year honors.

Now he enters his sophomore year with more experience, both behind the wheel and on the pit box. Knaus is arguably the most talented crew chief in NASCAR history and his pairing with a rising star has laid the groundwork to launch the next dynasty.

Even if the No. 24 team had not posted the fastest lap Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, the ingredients for this duo to be successful still exist.

As Byron continues to grow comfortable behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup Series car, the talent he showed in his rise to the top level will likely emerge. Coupled with the wealth of knowledge Knaus brings to the table could allow them to put up impressive numbers. 

No one could predict what Johnson and Knaus would accomplish after winning the DAYTONA 500 pole 17 years ago. It’s unknown what Knaus and Byron will do together. However, knowing Byron’s talent and the seven-time championship-winning crew chief’s capabilities means this pole could also be reflected back on as having begun a new dynasty.

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Elliott Rising at the Right Time

Chase Elliott didn’t enter the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as a championship favorite.

A regular season of mixed results and a lack of speed among the four Hendrick Motorsports teams with the new Chevy Camaro ZL1 led many to expect similar struggles in the final 10 races. 

After rebounding from a crash in the playoff opener at Las Vegas with two top-10 performances at Richmond and Charlotte, Elliott advanced to the Round of 12 where he became a serious championship contender.

He capitalized when Kevin Harvick made two costly mistakes late at Dover and Kansas and scored both victories to put himself in the Round of 8 for the second consecutive season.

Now he will look for redemption this fall after narrowly missing the Championship 4 in 2017.

After pacing 123 laps and leading with three laps to go at Martinsville Speedway last year, contact from Denny Hamlin sent Elliott spinning, costing him a shot at an automatic spot in the final four.

Elliott bounced back in the season’s penultimate event at ISM Raceway, pacing the field for 34 laps and leading late before Matt Kenseth passed him with 10 laps remaining to take the win.

Those opportunities were coupled with the pressure of securing his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. However, that pressure has been alleviated entering this season’s Round of 8.

While the No. 9 team has yet to dominate a race en route to victory like Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have, a combination of momentum and increased speed places Elliott on the championship radar.

After struggling for much of the season at 1.5-mile tracks, Kansas showed an improved intermediate performance for Elliott. Demonstrating that again at Texas will be crucial to set up for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Reaching the Championship 4 remains the challenge at hand for Elliott. However, the playoffs reward performers who execute under pressure and Elliott has proven that through six races.

Seeing if he can maintain this performance in the Round of 8, advance to the final four and rise above the competition at Homestead will ultimately decide his fate in 2018.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Old Guys Still Ruling in 2018

A few months ago, the conversation of the off-season as the excitement of the young stars rising into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. Drivers like Alex Bowman, Darrell Wallace Jr., and William Byron were heading into the year with full-time rides, some even replacing icons.

We were preparing to witness a year with a great deal of young talent, and many believed it would be proven on the track.

As the season kicked off at Daytona, it fired off fairly strong for the young guns with 25-year-old Alex Bowman winning the pole for the Daytona 500. Additionally, rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in the 60th running of “Great American Race.”

Wallace entered the media center following the Daytona 500 with much excitement and even let loose his emotions after a runner-up finish. But since then, Wallace hasn’t placed any better than 20th and has an average finish of 22.8.

The youngsters have become quiet since Daytona, and the veterans have become the spotlight of the season.

Six races in, the veterans have showcased their experience and proved they are still the ones to beat. In fact, 42-year-old Kevin Harvick went on to win the next three events following the Daytona 500 and even some in dominating fashion.

Harvick expressed his feelings on social media this past week after his teammate, 38-year-old Clint Bowyer, won the STP 500 at Martinsville.

https://twitter.com/KevinHarvick/status/978636514031800321

That’s right, no driver under the age of 25 has won a race this season. Many thought that Hendrick Motorsports would be a factor going into the year as they added a few young stars and the new Camaro ZL1.

Quite frankly, it has been the complete opposite.

The fresh young faces at Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman and William Byron, have had an uneasy start to the season. Both drivers combined have only scored one top-10 finish this year, and the new Camaro ZL1 has shown inconsistency throughout the first six races.

Meanwhile, a team with veteran drivers are building toward a having a historic season.

Stewart-Haas Racing has won four of the first six events and is going into the off weekend with a grandfather clock as Clint Bowyer snapped a 190-race winless streak.

Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, said after the win at Martinsville, “This year as a group they’ve been able to work together, and they’ve been able to work on a lot of little details, and I think it’s shown in the performance to start the year.”

Their impressive performance currently has all four of their drivers in the top-12 in points. But will this trend continue for the rest of the season?

The Cup Series schedule is lengthy, and it’s still early, but we shouldn’t rule out the young guns just yet. They’ve earned a spot in NASCAR’s premier series so they’re obviously talented and it will be thrilling to watch them try to break out and beat the “old guys.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Pole Allows Bowman to Emerge from Earnhardt Jr.’s Shadow

In the first event of the post-Dale Earnhardt Jr. era, the No. 88 car remained in the spotlight as its new driver Alex Bowman piloted it to the DAYTONA 500 pole position.

Speed from this team should come as no surprise since Earnhardt Jr. started first in half of the restrictor plate races in 2017 and Hendrick Motorsports has now won four consecutive poles in the “Great American Race.”

While this will provide Bowman an advantage to start Sunday’s race, more importantly, it establishes a platform for him to become known as more than just Earnhardt Jr.’s successor.

Much of the conversation surrounding the 24-year-old during the opening weekend of Speedweeks focused on his position as Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement, not his rise to HMS.

Little was mentioned of Bowman’s only other DAYTONA 500 start in 2014 with BK Racing and his climb from the underfunded ranks of the sport to one of the top organizations.

Few drivers have ever been able to advance their careers this way and while Bowman began his time behind the wheel of less competitive cars, it allowed him to make the necessary growth to succeed today.

“Honestly, I think I’m better because of the things that I had to go through,” Bowman said. “I got to make a lot of mistakes without anybody watching. Just never give up.”

He failed to qualify for this race in 2015 and now three seasons later, he will lead the field to the green flag, a feat even Bowman himself still can’t believe.

“Yeah, I mean, I never ‑‑ I mean, if you talked to me in 2015 and told me that in 2018 I was going to be driving the 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports, I would have called you nuts,” Bowman said.

Bowman’s unorthodox – but successful – path to a full-time ride for one of the sport’s top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organizations is an incredible achievement in itself and should be the focus after accomplishing the most significant feat of his career so far by taking the pole.

“You know, everything happens for a reason,” Bowman said. “My career had a lot of ups and downs, and I’ve been able to lean on my past experiences a lot to make me better and to better prepare myself for this job.”

The week of coverage ahead will be important for Bowman to begin establishing his name and telling his story as the new driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet.

While his connection to Earnhardt Jr. will always be present and essential to where he is today, this pole award is the first opportunity to emerge from the shadow of the 15-time most popular driver and begin writing the next chapter of his career.

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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.