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      ‘It’s all I wanted my whole life’: How Alex Bowman earned his first victory

      © 2019 Gavin Baker / NKP

      Alex Bowman never stopped battling for all 400 miles Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, and it led him to his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. The driver led 88 laps behind the wheel of the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, including the final six, en route to Victory Lane.

      © 2019 Gavin Baker / NKP

      Bowman qualified eighth for the 267-lap event. Teams knew that there was weather in the area, so race strategy was definitely going to come into play. By Lap 6, Bowman was scored in the sixth position and just four laps later was reporting that his car was tight center off. The caution flag was shown on Lap 11 for weather in the area. After a lengthy red flag, drivers returned to their cars and engines were re-fired. On Lap 16, Bowman was scored in the fourth position in a great top-10 battle on track. The 26-year-old was running in the ninth position on Lap 30 and by Lap 48 was reporting that his car did not have any front grip.

      On Lap 49, crew chief Greg Ives radioed to Bowman to pit for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment. Bowman came over the radio on Lap 62 to relay that the team may have gone a little too far on that change, but was expecting the track to tighten up a little bit. At the conclusion of Stage 1, Bowman was scored in the ninth position and earned those valuable stage points. Under caution, Bowman told Ives that his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was too free. The No. 88 machine visited pit road for another quick four-tire stop and the Axalta team added fuel and made another chassis adjustment.

      Shortly after taking the green flag for Stage 2, Bowman was scored in the 11th position. A caution was shown on Lap 102 for possible fluid on the racing surface and the driver reported that his car had way less grip than the previous run. While under the yellow flag conditions, Bowman brought his car to pit road for four tires, fuel and an additional adjustment to help the car’s handling. When the field went back green on Lap 108, the Axalta Racing machine was scored in 10th. Bowman advanced four spots to the sixth position with 35 laps to go and at the conclusion of the second stage would cross the line fourth.

      Under the stage-ending yellow, Bowman visited pit road for four tires and fuel. When the field went green for the final stage, the Axalta team was scored in third. Shortly after the start, the No. 88 Chevy took the lead on Lap 170. Two laps later, the caution was shown. Ives elected to keep Bowman out on track and the team was set to restart first. On the start, Bowman took the green on the bottom with teammate Jimmie Johnson right behind pushing. For the next 48 laps, Bowman continued to pace the field and set his eyes out front.

      © 2019 Matthew T. Thacker / NKP

      With a three-second lead over second place, Bowman radioed to Ives to keep him updated on where everyone was running and what their lap times were compared to him. On Lap 218, the Axalta pit crew would make their final stop of the day for four tires and fuel. Once green flag pit stops cycled through, Bowman was once again your leader. The Arizona native remained quiet on the radio throughout the remainder of the event and was focused on the victory. With just seven laps remaining, the No. 42 of Kyle Larson was able to get by the No. 88 for the first position. Bowman remained focused and retook the lead on Lap 262. In those final six laps, Bowman was quiet on the radio.

      Bowman captured his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday afternoon and is now locked into the 2019 NASCAR playoffs. This is the driver’s sixth top-10 finish of 2019 and his third top-10 finish in his five starts at the 1.5-mile speedway. The rain-delayed race provided Hendrick Motorsports’ 254th Cup Series victory, with Bowman becoming the 18th different driver to win for the organization.

      Bowman is the 10th different driver to score his first career win while driving for Hendrick Motorsports, which leads the Cup Series all-time. The Tucson, Arizona, native is the sixth driver to win while piloting the No. 88 machine and the first to capture his first career win with that car number.

      Alex Bowman: “It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life. I feel like this is a lot of validation for a lot of people that said we couldn’t do this. I’m so proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and Axalta and the Hendrick Engine Shop. My guys have worked so hard and we struggled so bad last year and the beginning of this year. I had questions if Mr. Hendrick was going to let me keep doing this. All the rumor mills. But, to be here winning a race in the Cup Series means so much. I just couldn’t do it without these guys. My pit crew is the best pit crew on pit road. And, this is all I ever wanted.

      “I was just tired of running second. I don’t want to do that anymore. I feel like this is the last box, aside from going and chasing a championship, that I needed personally for myself to validate my career. I feel like obviously there’s a lot more left to accomplish, but this is always what I hear is ‘you haven’t won a race.’

      “I can’t thank all of our partners at Hendrick Motorsports and this No. 88 team enough for everything they do for us. Nationwide, Axalta, LLumar, Valvoline and Chevrolet are a huge part of our program and team. Without them, we would not be here today. I am so happy to get this Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to victory lane and this is one thing I will never forget.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports