Talladega, Dover and now Kansas. Alex Bowman became the first driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to finish runner-up in three straight races prior to capturing his first victory with a second-place result under the lights at Kansas Speedway.
“We had a really good car,” Bowman said. “I just made a bad decision going through lap traffic on lane choice. They stayed where I needed to run. I should have gone high and I shouldn’t have picked the middle like I did. It was a good day for everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. We had really competitive cars and we really appreciate everyone’s hard work to continue to build our cars and continue to get better like we have. My family is from here, so it would have been pretty cool. Probably the two closest times I have been to winning was my hometown and my dad’s hometown, so it’s just frustrating. We will get one soon.”
Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Axalta team rolled off the grid fifth on Saturday night at Kansas Speedway. The driver got shuffled back into the 10th position by Lap 6 and on Lap 11 he radioed to the team that his Camaro ZL1 was a little too tight. By Lap 20, Bowman was in a battle for the ninth position with the No. 18 of Kyle Busch. Two laps before the competition caution, the Axalta driver radioed that his car was tight center off. The competition caution was shown on Lap 30 and crew chief Greg Ives brought the Axalta machine down pit road for right-side tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment. After a quick stop by the Axalta crew, Bowman gained five spots on pit road and restarted third.
On Lap 38, Bowman had worked his way into the second position. The Arizona native settled into the fourth position on Lap 41 and by Lap 50 he was reporting that he was really free into one and two, but tight off of turn four. The caution flag was shown on Lap 60 and Bowman was scored in the fifth position. Ives once again elected to bring the Axalta machine down pit road for four tires, fuel and another adjustment under caution. Once leaving pit road, the Axalta crew brought the Camaro ZL1 back down pit road to tighten some loose lug nuts following the previous stop. Bowman was set to restart 29th when the field went back green.
Bowman had his eyes set out front and at the completion of Stage 1 was scored in the 14th position. The driver reported at the end of the stage that his car was too free into the center, but it was better on exit. Ives radioed to the Axalta team to pit for four tires and fuel and after a quick stop by the team, Bowman gained four spots on pit road and restarted 10th. On Lap 102, Bowman made the pass for the fifth position and was moving his way up through the field. Just 11 laps later, the driver radioed to the team that his car needed more rear grip. Green flag pit stops were underway around Lap 120 and Bowman pitted from the lead on Lap 125 for four tires and fuel. Once green flag stops cycled through, Bowman was scored in the fourth position on Lap 150. Bowman remained in that position until the end of Stage Two and crossed the line fourth, earning valuable stage points.
Under the stage-ending caution, the Axalta team came to pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Bowman was set to restart fourth and shortly after green flag dropped, he was working the track and scored in the second position. The 26-year-old took the lead on Lap 179 and remained in the lead when the caution flag was shown on Lap 217. Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires and fuel and he was set to restart from the lead. After taking the green flag from the first spot, teammate Chase Elliott ended up getting by Bowman, putting the team second.
Bowman retook the lead on Lap 249 and maintained the lead with 15 laps to go. The No. 2 of Brad Keselowski got by the No. 88 Axalta machine on Lap 260, ultimately putting Bowman in the second position at end of the 271-lap event. This is the third race in a row that Bowman has finished in the runner-up position. This is the first time that a driver has finished runner-up in three consecutive events prior to getting their first victory. The driver now sits 12th in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings.
Qualifying a track-best seventh at Kansas Speedway Friday night, William Byron went on to officially start Saturday night’s race from the third position in the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 after pre-race technical inspection forced a handful of cars to start at the rear of the field. Losing a couple of positions on the initial start, Byron worked his way back to second place by the time the competition caution came out on Lap 31. When Byron came to pit road, crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for two tires, allowing the No. 24 to be the first car off pit road. Leading the field back to green on Lap 37, Byron got shuffled back within the top five, and ultimately settled into seventh place by the time the caution came back out on Lap 61. Relaying that his UniFirst Chevy was too tight on that last run, Knaus called for two right side tires again to maintain track position. However, as Byron went to pull out of his pit stall, the jack got stuck under the right side of the car and the UniFirst crew was not able to remove it before Byron got called for a pit road penalty of removing equipment from his pit stall. After receiving the penalty, Knaus made the call for Byron to return to pit road for left side tires, lining the No. 24 up at the tail end of the field in the 30th position for the restart. Fighting to gain track position back, Byron was able to race his way to 21st by the end of Stage 1. Returning to pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and adjustments to aid in a now loose-handling machine, the UniFirst crew was able to pick up six positions for Byron on pit road, putting him 15th for the start of Stage 2.
Settling into the 14th position as a long green-flag run ensued, Byron maintained that position until he came to pit road under green for his scheduled pit stop on Lap 123. Returning to the track after a routine four-tire stop, Byron cycled back to the 11th running position with just over 10 laps left until the stage break. Fighting a still loose No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Byron was able to maintain that position when the green-checkered flag was displayed on Lap 162 signaling the end of Stage 2. Coming back down pit road, this time under caution, the UniFirst crew serviced Byron’s Chevy with four tires and fuel before sending him back on track.
Restarting 13th with 100 laps remaining at the 1.5-mile oval, Byron slipped back to 20th initially reporting that he thought he had sustained fender damage from contact with another car. Regaining his composure, Byron was able to snag two more positions, moving him up to 18th, before green-flag pit stops began cycling through again. Coming to pit road on Lap 214 for four tires and fuel, Byron reported that he needed adjustments to aid in a Chevy that was still just too loose for him to manage. However, before green-flag stops could fully cycle through, the caution came out with 50 laps to go catching Byron and the No. 24 UniFirst team two laps down in the 23rd position. Electing to take the wave around to get one of his laps back, Byron lined up 21st for the ensuing restart. Still fighting the handling of his UniFirst Chevy, Byron was running in the 23rd position when the caution came out on Lap 240 and then again on Lap 263, with Knaus calling the No. 24 down pit road both times for four-tire pit stops. Restarting 22nd for the two-lap overtime shootout to the finish, Byron gained two more spots before ultimately crossing the finish line with a 20th-place finish.