Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Axalta team competed in Saturday night’s All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Bowman was declared the winner of the NASCAR All-Star fan vote following the Open where he finished third in the final stage. The Axalta team rolled off in the 19th position as the field went green in the main event under the lights. Shortly after taking the green flag, the Arizona native radioed to the team that his car was tight off of the corner. By Lap 21, Bowman was running in the 18th position with nine laps to go in the stage. The first caution of the race was shown on Lap 26 for debris and crew chief Greg Ives elected to bring the Axalta machine to pit road for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment.
At the conclusion of Stage 1, Bowman was scored in the 10th position and would remain on track under the stage-ending caution. Shortly after Stage 2 went green, the caution was shown, and Bowman had advanced into the sixth position. On Lap 43, the Axalta machine made contact with the outside wall but remained on track. Bowman did report that his Camaro ZL1 was much better before he made contact with the wall. Following Stage 2, Ives called the driver to pit road so that the Axalta team could make repairs to the right side. The team also changed four tires and added fuel while on pit road. Once Stage 3 got underway, the caution was shown on Lap 72 and Bowman reported that his Axalta Chevrolet was free before the caution was shown but told Ives that he would rather his car be free than tight. Ives elected to keep Bowman on track under this caution.
With five laps to go in Stage 3, the Axalta machine was scored in the 15th position. At the conclusion of the stage, Bowman crossed the line 14th and was reporting that his car was loose. Under the stage-ending caution, Ives called the Axalta machine to pit road for four tires and fuel. The final stage of Saturday night’s event was a 15-lap shootout for one million dollars.
With 13 laps to go in the All-Star race, the caution was shown. Bowman received tire rub before the caution was shown and had to come to pit road four left-side tires and to clearance the body from the tires. The green flag was shown with 12 laps to go, but the caution flag quickly came back out. With eight laps to go, Bowman was scored in the 12th position and five laps later was running ninth. At the conclusion of the 88-lap event, the 26-year-old crossed the line eighth. This is Bowman’s first top-10 finish in the All-Star event.
Alex Bowman: “Yeah, you know, our car was obviously really good in the Open. We just took off really, really tight. Obviously, we had that left-side damage from the Open and that probably got us really tight. Something got us tight to start the All-Star and we got it better until I got driven into the fence and pretty much knocked all four corners off of it. So, we just tried to play catch up from there. Eighth could have been a whole lot worse and we will move on to the 600.
“A big thank you to the fans for voting us in the race tonight. Wish we could have put on a better show in the race, but definitely a huge thanks to everyone for voting. I think we learned a little bit this weekend that will be beneficial for next weekend’s 600-mile race.”
Qualifying third for the NASCAR Cup Series Open qualifier race, William Byron knew he had three chances to try race his way into the All-Star race by winning one of the three stages Saturday afternoon. Settling into fourth-place until the caution came out on Lap 17, Byron brought his No. 24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevrolet ZL1 to pit road for four fresh tires, fuel and minor adjustments to aid in his handling. Lining up seventh for a two-lap Overtime shootout to declare the Stage 1 winner, Byron gained three positions on the initial lap. Pulling within striking distance of the lead coming out of the last turn, Byron got a huge run and was able to grab the Stage One win by inches, locking himself into his first career All-Star race.
Transferring after his Stage 1 win in the Open qualifying race, Byron was credited with a 16th-place starting position for the All-Star race. Grabbing a couple positions before the caution was displayed on Lap 28, crew chief Chad Knaus called Byron down pit road for four tires, fuel and minor adjustments to aid in a “tight in and loose off” Hendrick Autoguard Chevy. Restarting 12th with a two-lap shootout to end Stage One, Byron was able to pick up an additional position to finish the stage 11th.
Electing not to pit under the stage break, Byron was 10th on the ensuing restart but maneuvered his way to seventh by the time the yellow was displayed again, this time on Lap 37. Restarting seventh with 13 laps remaining in the second stage, Byron flexed some muscle in the No. 24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevrolet ZL1, racing up to fourth by the time Stage 2 was completed. Knaus called the sophomore driver down pit road under the stage break for four tires and fuel, with the No. 24 team gaining a position on pit road.
Lining up third for Stage 3, Byron got caught in the bottom lane, halting his momentum and dropping back to eighth. Gaining a couple positions back before the caution came out on Lap 58, Byron remained on track, restarting from the sixth position. Once again showing speed out of his Hendrick Autoguard Chevy, Byron maneuvered his way back to the third position for the conclusion of the third stage. Making his final pit stop of the night under the stage break, Byron received four tires and fuel, lining up eighth for the start of the last stage with varying pit strategy taking place.
Just two laps into the last stage, Byron was scored seventh, putting him in the bottom lane for the restart. Getting bogged down in the bottom lane, the No. 24 was shuffled back to ninth with the caution coming back out just one lap later. Once again getting stuck in the bottom lane for the ensuing restart with 12 laps remaining, Byron slipped back to 13th when the field went back green. Fighting his way through traffic as the race went green for the remainder of the event, Byron ultimately ran out of time, crossing the finish line ninth in his first career NASCAR Cup Series All-Star race in front of his hometown crowd.
Byron crossed the line right behind the No. 88, with his other two teammates, Chase Elliott finishing 14th, and Jimmie Johnson finishing 15th.
William Byron: “We were fast tonight for sure, especially once it got dark. Our car felt like it was flying through traffic. Unfortunately, the bottom lane was not the place to be on restarts, and while we had fresher tires there at the end than most of the cars in front of us, we got trapped on the bottom for the last two restarts and that killed our momentum. While it would have been nice to win the million dollars, I’m really optimistic for how our car will handle next weekend when points are on the line.”