Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Axalta team qualified 13th for the 267-lap season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The driver and team were ready to end the 2018 season on a high note. When the field took the green flag at the start of the event, the driver of the No. 88 machine lost a few spots and settled into the 16th position by Lap 16. On Lap 21, Bowman radioed to his Axalta team that his car was tight in the center of the turns. Crew chief Greg Ives radioed to the driver on Lap 34 that the team was prepared to make some necessary adjustments during the first round of pit stops.
Just three laps after communicating the changes, Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure and wedge adjustment. With 20 laps to go in Stage One, the 25-year-old driver was running 19th. Bowman maintained that position through the conclusion of the stage and visited pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. Shortly after Stage Two began, Ives radioed to the Tucson, Arizona native, that drivers on track were complaining of their cars plowing tight and Bowman agreed.
On Lap 102, Ives relayed to Bowman that his Axalta Camaro ZL1 looked like it was coming around and he was gaining on the cars in front of him. The driver radioed to the Axalta team on Lap 113 that his car was still loose in and off and tight in the center. The Axalta machine hit pit road for a scheduled green flag stop on Lap 119 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. This first caution, aside from the stage ending caution, came out on Lap 140 for debris. Ives elected to have Bowman take the wave around to get back one of his laps. The field went back to green flag racing with 16 laps left in Stage Two.
Bowman finished the second stage in the 22nd position and elected to pit under this stage ending caution. The Axalta team put on four fresh tires, added fuel and made another air pressure adjustment after Bowman reported that his car was tight in the center. On Lap 177, the driver was running in the 21st position and on Lap 191 was in the free pass position.
The caution flag was shown on Lap 194 and Bowman was in the free pass position. Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel and multiple adjustments to help the handling of the Axalta machine. On Lap 214, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 made contact with the outside wall and received right front damage. The Axalta team made two trips down pit road to make repairs to the right front, add four fresh tires and fuel. Upon returning to the track, Bowman was scored in the 30th position, multiple laps down.
On Lap 248, the caution flag was shown for an incident in Turn 1. Ives elected to take advantage of this caution and bring Bowman back to pit road for four tires, fuel and added packer to the right front. Bowman continued to take care of his car after the stops and ultimately brought home a 29th place finish in the season finale. The No. 88 team finished 16th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings.
“It definitely wasn’t our day. We struggled with some handling conditions off and on. This No. 88 team has worked their tails off this season. There is no quit in this team. We will go back to the table next week and begin our 2019 prep. I can’t say enough about our amazing partners at Nationwide, Axalta, LLumar, Valvoline and Chevrolet. We made a lot of progress this year and we will continue doing that same thing next year.”
In Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron brought the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 home with a 24th-place finish after starting the race in 28th.
Byron got to work early in Sunday’s race and was up to 23rd on Lap 8. By Lap 33, the driver of the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet jumped up another three positions to settle into 21st. Reporting that the Hertz Chevy was a little tight, he came to pit road for a cycle of green-flag stops. After the cycle of stops was complete, he was back to 21st. Byron lost a lap to the leaders as the run continued, radioing that the No. 24 Chevrolet was too tight in the high line in traffic. Still, he was able to move into 20th in the closing laps of Stage 1, finishing the opening segment inside the top 20.
During the stage break, Byron told the No. 24 Hertz crew that the car was too loose on corner entry and exit, but reiterated that in the high line, it was tight in traffic. He brought the Hertz Chevy to pit road during the break for multiple changes, along with four tires and fuel. Byron took the Stage 2 green flag in 21st, and he continued to hold his position over the next several laps. By Lap 124, he had fallen back to 22nd and had lost another lap to the leaders. On a caution for debris with 20 laps remaining in Stage 2, Byron stayed out on track to take the wave-around and get one of his laps back. Now only one lap down, he lined up 22nd for the restart. He was shuffled back three additional spots in the closing laps of the middle segment, but he battled to hold his top-25 position, finishing Stage 2 in 25th.
The Hertz driver brought his No. 24 Chevrolet to pit road on the stage break, asking the crew to free up the car. After a four-tire stop with adjustments, Byron lined up 27th on the Lap 166 restart and steadily climbed up to 22nd by Lap 190 as the changes seemed to improve the handling of the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet. When a caution occurred on Lap 193, Byron asked the Hertz crew to free up the car again. He lined up 23rd for the Lap 199 restart and gained a spot on the restart, putting him 22nd and in position for the free pass. On Lap 220, he came on the radio to report a flat right-rear tire while running 21st.
After having to make an unscheduled pit stop for the flat tire, Byron rejoined the field in 27th, three laps down. As another round of green-flag pit stops cycled through for the rest of the field, he was able to stay on the track and regain one of his laps. When a caution came out with just 20 laps to go in the 267-lap event, Byron was scored 24th, two laps down. He remained on track to take the wave-around, getting another lap back. He was able to hold onto his position through the closing laps, crossing the stripe 24th in the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet to mark his final race as a Cup rookie. Byron secured rookie of the year honors for 2018 with a top-10 finish at ISM Raceway last Sunday, Nov. 11.
Chase Elliott led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the checkered flag, earning a seventh-place finish. Jimmie Johnson was the next teammate to the checkered flag, finishing 14th. Joey Logano charged to victory at Homestead to capture the Cup Series title.
“It was a good effort today, but things didn’t go our way. Overall, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, but it’s been a good learning experience. We’ll get back after it in 2019.”