Cup Series

Three Takeaways: Bowman pulls a surprise as season's eighth winner

April 18

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

RICHMOND, Va. – After Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano combined to lead 179 of the 182 laps prior to a restart with 12 laps remaining, it appeared that the race would come down to those two drivers Sunday at Richmond Raceway.

Alex Bowman had other thoughts.

Bowman needed just three laps to go from third to first, passing both Logano and Hamlin for his first victory of the season.

It was a surprise to many, including Bowman:

"It did not go the way I thought it was going to go," he said. "We were pretty awful on short runs all day.

"To be honest with you, when the caution came out, I was like, ‘Man, we're going to struggle to get out of here with a top-5.’ ...  When we drove away, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what's happening?’"

Bowman, who was sent to the rear after the second stage because of an uncontrolled tire penalty, had a strong car throughout, but Logano said he didn’t expect Bowman to be a factor.

"We were all surprised, but anything can happen on a late-race restart on a short track," Logano said. "That’s what it came down to: They made great adjustments to make their car fire off better.

"What we saw was him being lights-out for five or six laps."

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Here are my takeaways from Richmond:

1. Emotional win for Bowman

It was an emotional win for Bowman for a couple of reasons: It was the first win for his team – the No. 88 until this season – since crew member Rowdy Harrell and his wife died in a car crash while on their honeymoon in November. 

"Our group has a lot of personalities and a lot of awkward people. ... Rowdy was the big, outgoing personality that really kept the group pumped up in any situation," Bowman said. "He really held us all together and was always happy, no matter what the circumstance was.

"He meant a ton to our race team."

It was also the first win for Bowman in the No. 48 car, the number he took over after Jimmie Johnson retired from Cup racing following last year. Johnson made his IndyCar debut Sunday, finishing 19th.

The Bowman team is tight-knit, but it wasn’t like Bowman knew the adjustment Greg Ives made. Ives indicated that the changes came from something he learned late in a previous Richmond race when he was crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as something they learned in the 30-lap run that started the race Sunday prior to the competition caution.

"I don't have a clue [what Ives did]," Bowman said. "I didn't see a wedge wrench go in it, so I would say air pressure stuff, which is typically your go-to for short-run versus long-run stuff.

"It sure woke it up, that's for sure."

Typically, drivers have low air pressure in their tires on a restart so the car remains somewhat consistent as the air pressure builds during a run while the grip from the tires wears off. Starting a restart with high air pressure can help the car turn for a few laps but then could upset the balance.

"That’s the strategy of the play: If he didn’t get to the lead in two or three laps, he was done and would probably finish fifth or sixth," Logano said. "That’s the gamble they took, and he took advantage of it and got by everybody pretty quick and made us all look kind of goofy."

2. Eight winners, nine races

Bowman became the eighth winner in nine races this year. He was 17th in the standings entering the race, as he had three top-10s and just one top-5 finish.

Bowman also became the third winner for Hendrick Motorsports this year. William Byron, Kyle Larson and Bowman have victories, while defending Cup champion Chase Elliott does not.

Four drivers who combined for 25 victories last year – Kevin Harvick (nine), Denny Hamlin (seven), Elliott (five) and Brad Keselowski (four) – don’t have a win this year. 

Hamlin, though, has eight top-5s in the nine races and leads the Cup standings.

"I'd rather be where I am than Alex Bowman," Hamlin said. "I don't care that he's got a win.

"We're smashing everyone. I'd still rather be where I'm at."

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3. Day vs. night

The race Sunday marked the first day race at Richmond since 2017. The track has had a mix of day and night spring races over the past decade.

There tends to be less grip during the day races as the track gets hot and slick, and that can lead to drivers making more gains (or losing more ground) as the tires wear. But that wasn’t necessarily the case Sunday, as it mimicked last September’s night race for which track position was key.

Drivers will return to Richmond for the playoff race in September under the lights.

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. 

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