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March 17, 2024

Alex Bowman, No. 48 team recover from rough Bristol start for top-five finish

Alex Bowman smiles on pit road.
James Gilbert
Getty Images

BRISTOL, Tenn. — A bottom-10 starting position was not what Alex Bowman and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had in mind heading into Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Coupled with the grind-it-up tire conditions, perhaps the adversity would be too much to bear.

Not entirely.

Starting 29th didn’t stop Bowman from capitalizing late to finish fourth, the 30-year-old’s second top five of 2024 and first since the season-opening Daytona 500. The Bristol finish additionally netted the Tucson, Arizona, native a new career-best finish at “The Last Great Colosseum” in 14 career Cup races.

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“I think we all saw it coming in practice, somewhat,” Bowman told regarding the heavy tire wear. “I don’t think we thought it would be that bad. I thought the race track would lay a little bit of rubber and kind of move to the top, but I mean, we knew in practice, like 35 laps, tires were on cords, so try to make the most of it there.”

So while Bowman had to manage how quickly his tires wore on the track, crew chief Blake Harris had to navigate how to maximize pit strategy for the No. 48 Chevrolet.

“We weren’t in a good spot all day with right-front tire wear, really right-side tire wear in general, you know, better than some, but not as good as you’d like to be,” Harris told “So really, it’s just trying to have that discipline to give him (Bowman) targets and lap times and try to watch his steering traces and making sure he’s managing it to the level of what we’ve seen for successful runs, so yeah. I thought he did an amazing job within that all day.”

Of course, Sunday’s 500-lap affair wasn’t one of immediate success right out the gate for the No. 48. A 19th-place finish at the end of Stage 1, followed by a 16th-place run at the end of Stage 2, certainly marked improvement over where the team started. But there was still work to be done.

Being track-savvy and adapting to early-race conditions continued Bowman’s chip-away approach, even when Hendrick teammates William Byron, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson weren’t in the vicinity to aid in the pursuit.

“I don’t know that we really did anything to work together as teammates. I’m sure on the pit boxes, they’re giving each other a lot of info,” Bowman said. “Not that we didn’t work together. We just really weren’t around each other until we got them at the end, and so just trying to outsmart guys around you. There are times you want to push, and like, at any point, you can pass a car in front of you, but it’s like, what’s the price you pay on the other side of the runs, so just try to be smart about it … feel like we did a pretty good job.”

The real trick came during the race’s waning laps. After Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 RFK Racing Ford came in during a green-flag pit stop, Bowman’s No. 48 Chevy transitioned to the lead. Bowman led the field for three laps before it cycled back to eventual race-winner Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking, especially there at the end in that green-flag cycle, Harris said. “Last thing you want to do is pit under caution … under green and look like every time you’re getting close to pitting, it looked like there might be a caution, so ran a little bit long there.

“I think that was our best shot to get the lead and potentially a win. Maybe cost us one or two more … maybe one more spot by running long there, but ultimately, just really happy. We’ve had a couple rough weeks. Didn’t get the finish that I thought we deserved last week in Phoenix, so to come out here with a top five is a big deal for this team. Get a little momentum on our side.”

MORE: Standings after Bristol | Cup schedule

Although the end result might not have culminated with a race win, the finish was one for the No. 48 team to build upon, whether from inside the No. 48 machine to atop the No. 48 pit box. Bowman currently sits 12th in the Cup points standings, a one-position bump from last week after Phoenix.

“I think it’s been a tough couple weeks, so glad to finally get a solid run and wish we could’ve ripped the fence like normal here for the fans, but it still was a good run for us,” Bowman said.

Next will be Circuit of The Americas on March 24 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), where Bowman has three top-10 finishes in as many Cup races there. And who knows? After navigating through a tough Bristol race weekend and grinding out a top five, the finish could be the start of something greater.

“Use this weekend as a perfect example,” Harris said. “We qualified 29th. Practice, with everything we had going on at the track, which was a huge challenge, we had to come in today, throw that out, be confident in what we put underneath Alex and him having confidence in us to just go get the job done. And yeah, I thought even before all the tire issues, we had a really good car. We were able to move up through there and just kind of manage the chaos from there. But yeah, you have to come in, reset and go after it, and that’s what we were able to do today.”