Shaking with joy as he climbed out of his car, Alex Bowman shook hands with and hugged team owner Rick Hendrick after winning the pole in the same race he failed to qualify for three years earlier.
“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. “You know, everything happens for a reason. 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.
“Honestly, I think I’m better because of the things that I had to go through. I got to make a lot of mistakes without anybody watching. Just never give up.”
Since Bowman was driving a chartered car and the number of cars entered was only 40, he was going to make the race no matter the outcome. But winning the pole for the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest race, for him is “a little surreal.”
Bowman’s final round lap of 46.002 and a speed of 195.644 mph earned him his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole. Given he went out early in the first round, he thought he was at a “disadvantage” for the second.
“Just a little nerve-racking. Our Nationwide Camaro ZL1 has been great since we unloaded. All the guys back at the chassis shop, body shop, the Hendrick Engine Shop is top notch. They all work so hard and we knew we were going for the pole. That’s what we were here to do. I thought we were at a little disadvantage letting the car cool down as long as we did, since we went pretty early in that first round. I was a little nervous for that second round, but I’m glad it took off well off pit road. And (I) did everything I could do, but this really comes down to the crew, all the guys back at the shop. Whether it’s the aero group, the engine shop, the chassis shop, everyone works so hard at these speedway cars, especially for the (Daytona) 500. Which means the world to have Nationwide’s support and to be able to put it on the pole.”
Joining him on the front row is Denny Hamlin, who’s lap of 46.132 and speed of 195.092 mph was on top of the board for roughly 90 seconds, before it was usurped by Bowman.
But that didn’t diminish his enthusiasm for starting front row of the Daytona 500.
“No, I literally am so ecstatic. It’s just so out of the blue because obviously I thought that today was going to be a tough day qualifying,” Hamlin said. “We focused so much on race trim yesterday. We stuck in a pack and I think we did one real mock run which wasn’t really even a mock run and we were so far off that we just switched and made sure our car was going to handle real good on Thursday and obviously next Sunday. This car is ready to race. It’s handling well and we’re looking forward to Thursday. Now, obviously to the 500 being on the front row. I’m so proud of FedEx and TRD (Toyota Racing Development). All of the hard work that the fab shop at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has done. This is really about them and their preparation for the Daytona 500. I couldn’t be prouder to represent them and hopefully we’ll get us another Daytona 500 next Sunday.”
Every driver from third on down must race for their official position in the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday night.