What a difference a few months can make.
Bowman has gone from being jobless in January to joining JR Motorsports for eight XFINITY races to becoming the interim driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for what will be 10 Sprint Cup Series events.
It has been a dream come true and he has embraced the opportunity with determination and focus.
“If you would have asked me at any point in the last year if I would have a Cup pole in my career, I would have told you, you were crazy,” Bowman said. “So I’m very thankful to get this opportunity, obviously, not under the circumstances that anyone would want. But I’m trying to make the most of it and having a lot of fun. I have to thank the Hendrick engine shop. Obviously, we have great horsepower. Everybody on this team did an awesome job.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been a huge supporter of Bowman, saying that he was helped their qualifying program immensely and praising the talents of his interim driver.
“Well, I’m not very good at qualifying,” Earnhardt admitted, “so he has been in the car and he has really helped our team get better on the qualifying front, as well as in the racing also. I’m not that great of a qualifier, so this is good for the team, good for Greg and the guys, great for Alex. Alex has really helped our program. Jeff (Gordon) helped it a lot, but Alex has been a great treat for the guys to work with and obviously he is a great driver.”
The 23-year-old has achieved three top-five and seven top-10 Sprint Cup finishes to date this season. In what may have been his most impressive performance this year, Bowman scored his first Sprint Cup Series pole at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday, leading the most laps (194) and earning a hard fought sixth place finish in the Can-Am 500.
He was in contention for the win for much of the race but after a pit stop for a caution with 57 laps remaining, Bowman lost the lead after a team decision to take four tires while pitting as some teams stayed on the track or took only two tires. He restarted fifth but with 15 laps to go had advanced to second place. The race went into overtime and on the restart, Matt Kenseth and Bowman made contact. Kenseth hit the wall and Bowman fell back to fifth place. After a second overtime restart, he finished the race in sixth place.
Bowman described his day as enjoyable but was clearly unhappy that he fell short of a win. He also spoke about the contact with Kenseth.
“It was a really fun day,” he said. “Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all the guys made great changes all day. We had the best car all day long, really disappointed. I hate that we got into Matt (Kenseth) like that, just really disappointing end to the day, but one of those deals, just a racing deal. I don’t know if his spotter cleared him or what, but I was up against the inside wall when we made contact. It says a lot about Hendrick Motorsports and Greg Ives and the whole Nationwide Chevy team. We were so strong all day, fastest car, but the fastest car didn’t win the race this weekend.
“Man, it’s just really disappointing. But everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, the Hendrick engine shop, Nationwide, Axalta, it just means so much for them to put faith in me. I don’t think I have ever led a Cup race before and to lead as much as we did and to run like we did today is amazing.”
Bowman has done an excellent job of showcasing his talent this year and making his presence known on the track but does not have anything lined up for the 2017 season. He says he is “still waiting for the right opportunity to come along.”
Maybe an endorsement from NASCAR’s most popular driver will help.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) November 12, 2016