By Toby Christie (Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie)
Considering Hendrick Motorsports has had a couple of down years, Alex Bowman had a very good first full-time season driving for the team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. Bowman set career-highs in just about every statistical category.
The year started off on a high note for the 25-year-old as he captured the pole position for the 60th-annual Daytona 500. Bowman would lead two times for 13 laps in the event and he looked to have a strong piece to contend for the win.
However, Bowman was collected in a lap 199 melee, which led to an overtime finish. Bowman would limp home to a 17th-place finish.
After struggling through the next four races, Bowman recorded his first top-10 finish of the season in Martinsville. A couple of weeks later, at Bristol Bowman recorded a fifth-place finish.
Bowman would perform admirably through the first-half of the season.
During the summer stretch, Bowman recorded his best finish of the season at Pocono Raceway. Driving an Axalta paint scheme which featured the Philadelphia Eagles, Bowman started 10th and worked his way through the field all day long.
When the checkered flag came out, Bowman found himself in third after picking off positions on the final restarts of the race.
“Yeah, I felt like our car was really solid on restarts all day. Anytime you restart on the outside here you can kind of take advantage of some people into the Tunnel (Turn). We were able to do that,” Bowman said. “That last restart wasn’t the best I couldn’t get to Kyle’s (Busch) rear bumper. I think we had some gear ratio differences there, but still a good solid day. The spotter did a good job all day, engine shop, chassis shop, everybody back home really appreciative for the continual improvement because it’s been awhile since we’ve run this good.”
Bowman would lock in a berth into the Playoffs, and he would survive the first round of cuts after finishing an impressive fourth at the Charlotte Roval after the top-two (Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson) crashed in the final set of turns. Bowman felt moving on in the Playoffs made up for losing a shot at a victory.
“Yeah, it makes up for the fact that we probably should have won there,” Bowman said. “We just got boxed in that last restart. We had 20 lap fresher tires than all the guys in front of us. Things kind of fell our way there at the end to get us up front. Just got boxed in and couldn’t make it happen. Congrats to the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) we were on the same strategy as them. It is what it is. Glad to make it in. A lot of people said we were going to be one of the guys out and to make it in and prove some of those guys wrong, definitely makes me feel good.”
The Round of 12 started with a DNF after crashing at Dover, and then at Talladega Bowman was swept up in a late-race crash which led to a 33rd-place finish. His championship bid was officially over.
Bowman would register a ninth-place finish at Kansas, before stumbling to finish 29th and 30th at Phoenix and Homestead to round out the year. It was a great first-year effort at HMS, which resulted in a 16th-place finish in the point standings.
The Arizona native ended the year with three top-five finishes and 11 top-10s.
For 2019, not much will be changing for Bowman. He will be back in the No. 88 Chevy Camaro ZL1 for HMS, and he will once again have sponsorship from Nationwide Insurance and Axalta. Greg Ives will continue as the crew chief and the pairing will look to take another step forward together.
I expect Bowman to be a more consistent contender inside the top-10 in 2019 and he may even break through for his first-career win. Bowman was quite strong at the short tracks, road courses and Pocono this past season and he has shown the ability to contend at Phoenix.
If he is to break through those would be good places for it to happen.