Alex Bowman is ready to hit his peak in the Valley of the Sun. But, he’ll need to tighten things up — literally — in order to do so.
Last Sunday’s Las Vegas race winner is aiming to achieve back-to-back victories for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, this time at a track that has left him snake-bitten recently — Phoenix Raceway, site of Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
In 2016, Bowman put the then-No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole in his ninth of 10 starts substituting for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. He was well-positioned to win the race until contact with Matt Kenseth resulted in lost positions, drifting back to a sixth-place result. Since then, the Tucson, Arizona native has failed to crack the top 10, finishing 13th or worse in his last eight starts at his home track.
“We’ve tried to recreate that, and it never works,” Bowman told NASCAR.com of his 2016 Phoenix finish. “Obviously, going there with a new race car I’m pretty excited about. I just feel like I need to approach it a little bit differently than I have in the past.”
Bowman is taking action to fix it this time around.
“Drive more like my teammates, which isn’t something I enjoy doing or am good at doing,” Bowman said. “But, I think with this race car, I kind of have to go more their direction. I can’t be as loose as I want to be. Trying to make the right decisions to get us where we need to be when we unload there because, obviously, we don’t have much time after we unload and practice to get it right.”
While Bowman has struggled, his Hendrick teammates have thrived in pressure situations. In 2020, Chase Elliott won at Phoenix to earn his first Cup championship. Kyle Larson accomplished the same feat in 2021 to cap off a 10-win season. William Byron has also experienced glimpses of speed with four top-10 finishes in eight career starts at the 1-mile oval.
But, replicating another racer’s driving style isn’t easy. Actually, it’s nearly impossible. Analyzing their data will help Bowman’s cause, though.
“We’re definitely all different,” Bowman said. “Every race car driver is different. You can try to drive like somebody else all you want, but you’re always going to be different and look for different things and feel different things. The four teams work together really closely. Some weeks we go to the race track and the four cars are similar, some weeks they’re not. I just try to use their information to learn as much as I can.”
Bowman is focusing on going in his teammates’ direction when it comes to setting up the car and the way each driver attacks the track. In fact, he’s so focused on improving at Phoenix, he didn’t even bother to celebrate his Vegas triumph.
“As soon as the checkered flag fell at Vegas, I was all-in on Phoenix,” Bowman said. “There wasn’t a go home and party all night, there wasn’t any of that. I’ve just been training all week, trying to have my mind in the right place and make the right decisions to go there the right way. Hopefully, it works out. Definitely going there differently than I ever would have in the past.”