Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway was full of strategy and fuel mileage. The 200-lap event at the D-shaped speedway, came down to track position and smart calls on the pit box. Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet team made strong moves on the track and crew chief Greg Ives called a solid race to put the team in the 10th position at the checkered flag. The finish tied Bowman’s career-best finish at Michigan International Speedway and gave the No. 88 team two top 10s at the speedway this year.
On Friday, Bowman qualified for the 400-mile race in fourth position. On Sunday’s starting grid, Bowman had the preferred outside line to start the race – allowing him to secure fourth place on the track and hold on to it for the first 20 laps of the event. Early in the race, Bowman radioed to the crew that the No. 88 was handling “tight.” He maintained top-10 status and finished Stage 1 in the eighth position.
The Axalta pit crew made adjustments to the No. 88 Chevrolet prior to the start of Stage 2. Bowman started the second stage in fourth position and was able to stay in the top five until 15 laps to go in the stage. The team executed a pit stop under green and only a few laps later a caution came out. This threw off the planned pit strategy for the day, but Ives was prepared to adjust and get the team back up front. The team ultimately ended Stage 2 in 19th place.
The final stage of the race consisted of 80 laps and the No. 88 team started in 13th. The handling of the car continued to plague Bowman and the No. 88 dropped down to 24th at Lap 131. Bowman moved up from there to the 15th position by Lap 143 and then 13th two laps later. The team took a “big swing at it” when a caution came out at Lap 148. Ives called Bowman to pit road where the team conducted a fuel-only pit stop. Ives wanted to get Bowman track position for the end of the race. It worked – getting the No. 88 out to restart in third position. With 50 laps to go in the race, Bowman had to maintain position, but also save fuel. Ives kept Bowman on pace in order to save fuel for a few laps. On Lap 184, Ives radioed to Bowman that the No. 88 would be good on fuel until the end of the race. Bowman was able to hold on strong and finish the race in 10th place.
Alex Bowman: “We had a really good car in practice and just took off really tight there in the race and nothing touched it. It was really tight. It was on the splitter all day. Track position was so key. A lot of opportunities to take a big swing at it and Greg did a good job calling the race. Strategy kind of bit us a little bit there getting buried. We didn’t have it today.”
Running at Michigan International Speedway for the second time during the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron had a solid weekend from start to finish, qualifying third and finishing eighth, both track-best stats for the driver of the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
When the field went green for the 200-lap race Sunday afternoon, Byron spent the initial laps running just outside the top five, in sixth place, fighting a Liberty University Chevy that was too loose for him to make any forward progress. Maintaining his position as the stage continued, crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for Byron to come to pit road under green on Lap 45 for two right-side tires and fuel to get him to the end of the first stage. As green-flag pit stops cycled through, Byron was scored fifth for the remaining 10 laps of Stage 1 and reported that this was the best his No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had felt all weekend. Crossing the stripe in the fifth position at the end of Stage 1, Byron was able to pick up valuable stage points to help in his playoff hunt. Still happy with the handling of his Chevy, Knaus made the call for two tires again, this time left sides, and to top off on fuel under the stage break.
Restarting fourth for the start of the second stage, Byron struggled to maintain momentum, falling just out of the top 10. Reporting that the handling of his No. 24 had swung to the extremely loose side, Byron worked to maintain his position and as the run ensued, the balance on the Liberty University Chevy started to come back to the neutral side. As pit strategy began to play out, Byron found himself running fifth with 10 laps remaining in Stage 2 before Knaus made the call for the Charlotte, North Carolina, native to return to pit road under green, this time for four tires, fuel and minor adjustments. While green-flag pit stops were continuing to cycle through, the caution flag was displayed scoring Byron in the 14th position. With some cars electing to pit, Byron remained on track, restarting 10th for a one-lap dash to the stage break. Picking up two more positions, Byron collected more stage points with his eighth-place finish in Stage 2. Continuing to utilize pit strategy, Knaus elected to keep the No. 24 on track lining Byron up in the outside lane in fourth for the start of the final stage.
Two cautions early in the run slowed the pace and re-racked the field for restarts but Byron continued to maintain his top five position. However, electing not to pit until the final caution on Lap 150, Byron hit pit road for two right-side tires and fuel to make it to the end of the race. Restarting 11th for the final 48 laps, the handling on the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 swung to the extreme loose side once again, halting Byron’s forward progress through traffic. However, as the green flag run ensued, Byron’s handling began to stabilize in the closing laps. With others worried about potentially running out of fuel, Byron worked to pick up a couple additional positions before beginning to save fuel himself to avoid having to pit another time. Byron made it across the finish line just as he was running out of fuel, scoring a track-best eighth-place finish in the process, and his eighth top-10 finish of the season.
Byron led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the checkered flag with his eighth-place finish, followed by Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman closely behind in ninth and tenth respectively. Unfortunately, Jimmie Johnson was caught in an earlier on-track incident, relegating him to a 34th-place finish at the two-mile speedway.
William Byron: “Honestly, I thought we tried a little different approach today and our car was just really hard to handle. We struggled in traffic a lot. But, to come out with a top 10 is good. I feel like we ran in and around there all race for the most part. We just struggled on restarts but not bad overall. I think we made up a lot of points. We just kind of needed a couple of different things to play a little bit differently for us to have a better finish.”