Alex Bowman, who finished second at the Charlotte Roval, and William Byron, who came home sixth, both stayed alive in the NASCAR Playoffs, advancing to the Round of 12.
Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide #REALtirement machine qualified second for Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course. Unfortunately, on Saturday during final practice the team was forced to go to a backup car after a wreck on course. Early into the 109-lap event, Bowman spun on track through a chicane and was forced to come to pit road for fresh tires. At first, the call was that the No. 88 team did not have to serve a pass-through penalty, but it was later reviewed, and Bowman was forced to come down pit road on Lap 5 to serve the penalty. By Lap 11, the team was scored in the 39th position and spotter Kevin Hamlin relayed that his lap times were similar to those of the leaders. Bowman came over the radio on Lap 17 and reported that his car was losing forward drive.
The caution was shown on Lap 22, which ultimately ended Stage 1 under the yellow. Bowman was scored with a 30th-place finish. Following the stage, the Nationwide #REALtirement team came to pit road for four tires, fuel and some damage repair. The green flag was shown on Lap 27 and Bowman restarted 24th. Quickly advancing positions following the restart, the Tucson, Arizona, native found himself inside the top 20 by Lap 36 and was 15th when a caution was shown on Lap 42. Crew chief Greg Ives called the driver to pit road for four tires and fuel under the yellow and Bowman was set to restart 26th with six laps remaining in the stage. The Nationwide team was able to advance two additional positions to finish Stage 2 in the 24th position.
Following the second stage, Ives elected to keep Bowman on track and not pit. When the green flag waved for the final stage on Lap 54, Bowman restarted 19th. The driver fell back to 23rd before the caution was shown on Lap 61 for a spin on the track. While under the yellow, Ives called the No. 88 machine to pit road for four tires, fuel and a cold water. Just as the field took the green flag on the restart, the caution was shown for a wreck in Turn 1. During the quick yellow, Bowman remained on course and restarted 25th when the field went green on Lap 66.
Ives called the driver to pit road for a scheduled green-flag stop on Lap 75 and with 30 laps to go in the race, Bowman was running 17th. Within four laps, Bowman had advanced three positions and on Lap 88 when the caution flag was shown, the driver was 13th. Ives radioed to the driver to save fuel and to cool the car down. Bowman was battling on track and was racing into the eighth position on Lap 92. Just 10 laps later, while under the yellow, the field was stopped on course for clean up on the racing surface. When the field went green on Lap 103, Bowman was scored in the sixth position. The driver entered the second-place running position with five laps remaining and would maintain that position through the remainder of the event.
With Sunday’s finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the No. 88 team advances to the Round of 12. This marks the second season in a row that the driver has advanced past the first round. Bowman now sits in the ninth position in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings going into next weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway.
Alex Bowman: “Really proud of this Nationwide #REALtirement team today. Ending up second after a really long day, is great. I have been sick this week and I am just really worn out and hot. By Lap 10 I was pretty done and pretty out of it. The guys gave me a great car to work with today. I am just really focused on moving forward and I am looking ahead to the Round of 12. Our race cars are going to be really strong in this round.”
After capturing his fifth pole award of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron went into Sunday’s race needing to stay above the playoff cutline to advance. Leading almost the entirety of the first stage, and collecting stage points in both stages, Byron went on to have a strong day in the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, capturing a six-place finish and locking himself into the Round of 12.
Leading the field to green Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course, Byron quickly secured the top spot and set sail around the 17-turn course. Pulling out to a substantial lead, Byron paced the field for the initial 21 laps before the first caution of the day came out. Looking to score stage points with a three-lap dash to the end of Stage 1, Byron restarted first, but an immediate caution as the field went into Turn One, shuffled the running order, leaving Byron with a second-place finish to end Stage 1. Happy with how his No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was handling, crew chief Chad Knaus called the sophomore driver down pit road for four tires, fuel and no adjustments.
However, with varying pit strategy among the leaders during the last caution, Byron lined up 25th when the field went back to green for the start of Stage 2. Methodically working his way through traffic throughout the ensuing green-flag run, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native made his way up to the 12th position before the yellow came out on Lap 43. Coming to pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and a minor air pressure adjustment, Byron rejoined the field in 13th for the final six laps of the stage. Trying to collect more crucial stage points, during the remaining laps Byron battled his way to a 10th-place finish in Stage 2. Playing strategy of their own, Knaus elected for Byron not to pit under the stage break, allowing him to pick up two more positions before the field went back green.
Restarting eighth in the UniFirst Chevy, Byron continued to make his march to the front of the field, moving to just outside the top-five running order, in sixth, with 50 laps remaining of the 109-lap event. Still needing to pit one final time before the race was over, when the caution came out on Lap 63 and then again on Lap 66, Knaus once again elected not to pit, wanting to get closer to their fuel window. Restarting sixth when the field went back green on Lap 67, Byron powered his way up to the third position just before green-flag pit stops began throughout the field. Eventually, Byron took over the top spot again as pit stops cycled through, but was called to pit road two laps later, on Lap 77, for four tires and fuel for the No. 24. As green-flag pit stops continued to cycle through, Byron was scored third in the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 when the caution was displayed just 13 laps later. With their strategy set, Byron remained on-track despite the caution coming out just a couple laps later on Lap 94. Restarting fourth with 15 laps remaining, Byron fought hard to hold off the cars behind him with fresher tires but ultimately slid back to seventh as the caution was displayed two more times within a handful of laps before ultimately going under red flag conditions for a lengthy cleanup. Finally going back racing with six laps to go, Byron restarted from the seventh position but was able to pick up one more spot by the time he crossed the finish line, grabbing a top-10 finish, as well as collecting enough points to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
In a stellar day for the Hendrick Motorsports camp, all four cars came home within the top 10. Chase Elliott collected his third win of the season at Charlotte’s road course and Bowman was close behind, crossing the stripe in second. Byron finished the race in sixth with Jimmie Johnson finishing ninth. With Sunday’s race an elimination race for the playoffs, all three cars originally locked in were able to advance their way into the Round of 12.
William Byron on advancing: “Yeah, it feels awesome. It was a goal accomplished. We had a good car and we could have gone for more, for sure, but I just wanted to finish the race. I knew we were close on points, so just to finish the race was a goal accomplished. A sixth-place finish is good and we’ll go onto Dover. I know it’s a good track for us.”