There are no guarantees in life and certainly not in NASCAR. No one knows this better than Alex Bowman.
In January, he was abruptly released from his Sprint Cup ride with Tommy Baldwin Racing. The last few months have been challenging but Bowman was back at the track this weekend at Dover International Speedway.
It was the first of a nine race deal with JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series and Bowman made the most of the opportunity. He contended for the win, leading 33 laps on his way to a third place finish in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200.
The 23-year-old NASCAR Next alumni qualified fifth in the No. 88 Advance Auto Parts Chevy but admitted he was apprehensive after being out of a race car for seven months (except for one race in a midget car at the Chili Bowl in January).
“I was a little worried, just being so rusty,” Bowman said. “I think it was more mental really than actually like driving the race car. It was just more me being nervous. I think Friday morning, I was probably the most nervous I’ve been in years, as far as getting in the race car.”
“This is one of the toughest places we come,” he continued, “and it was kinda like, ‘Can I still do this? Am I going to mess up, make stupid mistakes or do dumb things?’
He was also concerned about the communication with crew chief Dale Elenz.
“I haven’t given feedback on a race car in seven months either, didn’t really do a good job of that throughout practice, but I think Dave overcame it and gave me a really good piece for the race.”
Bowman gave much of the credit to his team and the speed of his car as he talked about the race.
“We were a bit off in the heat race so we made some big changes and it really paid off on the long run,” he explained. “I think we were definitely the strongest long run car all day. Then in that first run catching the 20 (Erik Jones) and driving by him shows a lot about our race car.
“Those Gibbs cars have been really, really good all year so for Dave and the guys to bring a race car that can pass those Gibbs cars is more than pretty much anybody has been able to do this season. I’m really thankful for that.”
Although he was ultimately pleased with a third place finish, Bowman’s goal was a victory.
“At the end”, he said, “it was like, well, we can finish second or we can try to win the thing. So, put on four tires and tried to win it and it just wasn’t our day, we couldn’t get to them.
“Just really thankful for Advance Auto Parts to be on board. It’s been a lot of fun this weekend. I haven’t driven a race car in like seven months so it is pretty incredible to come here and run as well as we did, it means a lot. It really just shows a lot for JRM.”
Bowman is already looking forward to the next race, realizing more than ever, that each performance is crucial to his future in NASCAR. He spoke candidly about what he wants to achieve this season.
“Hopefully, my phone starts ringing and I get some more races. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve got nine races this year and at this point in my career those nine races are really going to define where it goes,” Bowman said. “I’ve spent full seasons in the Cup Series and spent full seasons in the XFINITY series. As far as the XFINITY stuff goes, I did everything but win a race. I sat on poles, we ran up front, just never put a whole race together
“I think with my experience in the Cup Series for the last two years, these nine races, I have to go win some. I have to prove that I should be here and I think winning means that.”
He concluded by saying, “I need to win races. Hopefully, this proves to the garage that I’m capable of doing that.”
Bowman’s next race will be at Pocono Raceway on June 4 for JRM. Unless, of course, someone else offers this determined young driver, a chance to do more of what he loves.