Points to cutoff: -2
Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide team took the green flag Saturday night from the 20th position. The driver of the Chevrolet radioed to the team on Lap 19 that his car was loose in and loose off. While running in the 20th position on Lap 49, crew chief Greg Ives radioed to the driver that his lap times were comparable to the leaders. With 30 laps to go in the opening stage, Bowman reported that the rear of the car was done. At the conclusion of Stage 1, Bowman crossed the line 19th.
Under the stage-ending caution, Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel and an adjustment to help the rear of the car. When the field took the green flag on Lap 108, the driver restarted 22nd. Just three laps after the restart, Bowman was involved in an on-track incident with a competitor on track. The Nationwide team remained at the ready on pit road and Bowman brought the car to the stall for four tires, fuel and damage repair. The 26-year-old driver restarted 31st when the field went back green on Lap 115.
By Lap 155 the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had made up ground to move into the 23rd position. Bowman was scored two laps down and maintained the 23rd position through the end of Stage 2. The driver relayed to Ives that his car needed rear drive and that his Camaro ZL1 didn’t have any drive at the end of the stage. Ives called the driver to pit road for four tires, fuel, an air pressure and track-bar adjustment under yellow. Bowman restarted 29th on Lap 208.
When the caution flag was shown on Lap 242, Bowman had advanced four positions up to 25th and was reporting that his car still needed more drive. Under the yellow, Ives elected to have the team take the wave around to get a lap back and Bowman restarted from the 24th position on Lap 250. Just 28 laps later, the driver was running 23rd and was quiet on the radio. Ives elected to have the Nationwide machine make a green flag pit stop on Lap 282 for four tires, fuel and an adjustment. With 100 laps to go in the 300-mile event, Bowman was scored in 26th.
The caution was shown once again on Lap 314 and Bowman relayed to Ives that his car needed more drive. Knowing that the team was multiple laps down, Ives elected to keep the driver on track and take the wave around. Bowman restarted 24th on Lap 321. The Tucson, Arizona native, would maintain that position through the remainder of the event.
Bowman now sits 13th in the NASCAR playoff standings, just two points behind the 12th-place driver and teammate William Byron. Next weekend’s event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the cutoff event for the Round of 16.
Alex Bowman: “This wasn’t what we wanted or needed tonight. We just didn’t execute very well. We were really tight here in the spring, so we came here trying to build a car that would turn really well. It did that, but it just didn’t have any drive. This Nationwide team will regroup this week and we will come back strong in Charlotte. We had a pretty good car there last year, so we are really focusing on getting stage points and a good finish to close out the Round of 16.”
Points to cutoff: +2
Heading into the second race of the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, driver William Byron and the team battled handling issues on the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as soon as they unloaded at Richmond Raceway for Friday’s practice sessions and qualifying. Still trying to get control of the handling throughout the 400-lap race on Saturday evening, Byron had to fight through adversity to recover for a 24th-place finish and remain above the cutoff line when the contest was over.
Fighting handling issues the entire weekend, Byron started Saturday night’s race from the 25th position. Even in the opening laps, the driver of the No. 24 radioed that he was fighting a Liberty University Chevy that was just too loose. Able to fight his way within the top-20 running order with only a few laps left in Stage 1, Byron did his best to hold off the leaders and remain on the lead lap but unfortunately lost the battle with two laps remaining. Crossing the stripe on Lap 100 to signal the end of the first stage, Byron collected a 20th-place finish but reported that the handling of his Chevy was still just “wicked loose.” Coming to pit road under the stage break, crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for four tires, fuel and adjustments to try help aid in his handling.
Lining up 21st for the start of Stage 2, the sophomore driver was battling for position in the initial laps and received contact from another competitor creating a left rear tire rub on the No. 24. As Byron was about to hit pit road under green-flag conditions, the caution came out on Lap 113. After a solid four-tire stop by the Liberty University crew as well as minor left rear damage repair, Byron restarted 30th, one lap down. However, within 10 laps, Byron found himself back in 21st and in the position to get his lap back if the caution were to come out. Holding on to the beneficiary position for as long as possible, the leaders caught the tail-end of the lead lap cars removing that option for Byron to get back on the lead lap. As the stage continued, Byron found himself in a similar situation as the end of Stage 1. Still fighting an extremely loose No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Byron fought as hard as possible to remain in front of the leaders and only one lap down, but unfortunately was overcome with two laps left in Stage 2. Finishing the stage in the 22nd position, Knaus called Byron down pit road for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments, but a pit road speeding penalty allowed Knaus to call the No. 24 back down pit road for further adjustments before having to line up at the tail-end of the longest line for the ensuing restart.
Working to overcome the penalty, Byron was able to pick up three positions before the yellow flag was out again, this time on Lap 244. Reporting that his balance had finally swung to the tight-side, Byron came to pit road for four tires, fuel and a different set of adjustments before rejoining the field and lining up 26th for the restart. Despite being two laps down, the No. 24 team utilized a bit of pit strategy as a long green-flag run ensued, moving up into the top-20 and once again in the beneficiary spot to get one of the two laps back should the caution come out. However, once the leaders put Byron down another lap, Knaus called the 21-year-old driver to pit road to complete his stop on Lap 316. As Byron was pulling on to pit road, the caution came out, automatically closing pit road from activity. With some confusion as to whether Byron beat the caution light, Knaus instructed Byron to complete a pass through and come back down pit road the next time by for his pit stop. As Byron was leaving pit road the first time, he was given another pit road speeding penalty, but came back to the attention of his Liberty University team for a four-tire pit stop before having to start tail-end of the field once again. Forced to race his way through traffic again, Byron methodically began picking up positions during the remaining 79 laps. Making it to 24th with 30 laps to go, Byron was able to hold on to that position for the rest of the run until the checkered flag flew.
Jimmie Johnson led the charge for Team Hendrick at Richmond Raceway, finishing 10th, followed by Chase Elliott in 13th, Bowman in 23rd and Byron in 24th.
William Byron looking ahead: “It’s just great to have a shot. It’s just great to be even on the upside of it. And, I think if we can do that, I’m really optimistic for what we can do going forward. We’re just really fortunate to have another shot after a night like tonight and we can go forward and see what we have. … It was just a tough night. We started out far back and lost our first lap pretty quickly. We just couldn’t recover, we just kept getting lapped. So, we just move on from here and move on to the ROVAL. I think we have a good shot there to have a good result and hopefully compete for a top-five or something like that would be nice. I’m really optimistic about that with how we’ve run at the road courses and hopefully that will work out for us.”