Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Axalta team qualified eighth for Sunday’s 316-mile event at Phoenix Raceway. Six laps into the event, Bowman continued to hold down the eighth position and on Lap 25 radioed to the team that his car was a little snug in the sticky and a little snug through the center. On Lap 42, the Tucson, Arizona, native was able to advance into the top five.
When the caution flag was shown on Lap 57, Bowman was scored in the ninth position. Crew chief Greg Ives elected to bring the Axalta machine down pit road for four tires, fuel and multiple adjustments to help the car’s handling. The driver restarted 10th on Lap 63 and was able to advance three positions when the caution was shown on Lap 64. Ives radioed to Bowman to remain on track during this caution and the team was set to restart seventh in the bottom lane on Lap 71.
The team was able to gain one additional position before the conclusion of Stage 1 to finish sixth, earning valuable stage points. Under the stage-ending yellow, Ives elected to keep Bowman on track and the team restarted fifth on Lap 84. Following the restart, the driver settled into the ninth position on Lap 103. Bowman relayed to Ives and the Axalta team that his car was still a little free in on Lap 121 while running in the 11th spot. During the fourth caution of the day on Lap 130, Bowman was scored in the 11th position and Ives called the driver to pit road for four tires, fuel, wedge adjustment and an air pressure adjustment. The 26-year-old driver restarted 12th on Lap 137.
On Lap 162, Bowman radioed to the team that he was sideways on entry while running in the 17th position. With 10 laps to go in Stage 2, the driver was scored in 20th. The caution flag was shown on Lap 189 and the stage ultimately ended under yellow flag conditions, scoring Bowman in 20th. Ives elected to bring the Axalta Chevrolet to pit road for four tires and fuel following the stage. Bowman restarted 16th on Lap 199 and just 14 laps later the caution flag was shown once again. Continuing to battle an ill-handling car, Ives brought Bowman back to pit road for four tires, fuel and an additional wedge adjustment. The team was set to restart 19th on Lap 221 and by Lap 235, Bowman was scored in 17th.
Bowman radioed to Ives and the team on Lap 248 while running 18th that his car was tight overall and had less overall grip. The seventh caution of the day was shown on Lap 252 and the Axalta team visited pit road under yellow for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment. Bowman restarted 16th on Lap 258 and just seven laps later the caution was shown once again. The driver reported that the previous change was going in the right direction and the team came down pit road for another four-tire-and-fuel stop.
The Axalta driver entered the top 10 on Lap 273 and continued moving through each position. On Lap 288, Bowman was scored in fourth. Through another restart and getting shuffled back, Bowman was running eighth with 20 laps to go. The caution was shown on Lap 304 and Bowman was scored in 10th. Knowing that it would be a gamble, Ives called the driver to pit road under the yellow for right-side tires and fuel. Bowman restarted 15th during the first overtime attempt and would advance one position at the conclusion of the race to finish 14th.
The No. 88 team currently sits fourth in the driver points standings, just 26 markers behind the leader.
Alex Bowman: “Definitely not where we wanted to finish today. I feel like every time we come to Phoenix, it is something. We are either too loose or too tight. The Axalta guys made changes on pit road basically every stop and we were trying anything we could to get the feeling of the car right. These guys work so hard each and every week and it just wasn’t our day today. We will move on to Atlanta.”
Searching for the right handling all weekend with the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, driver William Byron started 17th in Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. Constantly making progress throughout the race, Byron was running fifth when right-side damage forced him down pit road in the closing laps. Working to overcome the earlier incident, Byron fought through a string of restarts in the closing laps to earn a 10th-place finish — his first of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Rolling off from the 17th position at the one-mile oval, Byron picked up a couple positions to find himself inside the top-15 running order early on. However, 50 laps into Stage 1, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native radioed that he felt a slight vibration in his Hertz Chevy. Nine laps later the first caution of the race came out allowing Byron to come down pit road for four tires and fuel. After the pit stop, crew chief Chad Knaus confirmed that Byron had a blistered right front tire that was causing the vibration he felt during that run. Restarting 14th, Byron gained three positions before the caution came back out just one lap later. With a four-lap dash to the end of the first stage, Byron lined up 11th but a slight stack in the bottom lane on the restart slowed his momentum resulting in a 14th-place finish in Stage 1. Reporting that his No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet Camaro Zl1 1LE was too loose on throttle, Byron came back down pit road for four tires, fuel and an adjustment.
Split pit strategy under the stage break resulted in Byron restarting 18th but he was able to jump up to the 13th position initially during the stage. Losing one position as a long green-flag run ensued, Byron settled into 14th and maintained that position until the caution came out on Lap 132. Fighting a now tight Hertz Chevy, the 22-year-old came down pit road for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments. Lining up 14th when the field went back green, Byron snagged two positions on the restart, and while he was catching the cars in front of him for position, the caution came out on Lap 190 forcing Stage 2 to end under yellow. Coming down pit road for four tires and fuel, the Hertz team gained Byron two positions on pit road allowing him to line up 10th for the start of the final stage.
Still fighting a tight Hertz Chevy, Byron slid back to 11th before the yellow was displayed once again, this time on Lap 215. Knaus elected to bring the No. 24 down pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and further adjustments to aid in a still-tight race car. With varying pit strategy taking place, Byron was scored 13th for the restart but was told to save as much fuel as he possibly could throughout the next run. Moving up to the 11th position as the laps wound down, Byron reported that this was the best that his Hertz Chevy had handled all race. Knocking on the door of the top 10, Byron’s momentum was halted when the caution came out on Lap 253, bunching the field back together. Pitting for four tires and fuel, Byron restarted 11th but the caution came out just eight laps later. With differing pit strategy once again taking effect, Knaus elected to not have his driver pit under the caution, allowing him to restart fifth with 41 laps to go. Making a big move on the restart, Byron was racing for the third position when he sustained right-side damage from contact with another competitor. Coming to the attention of his crew under the caution, Byron got four tires, fuel and repairs to the sustained damage before rejoining the field in 19th. With another quick caution, Byron continued to work his way back through the field, cracking the top 15 with 10 laps remaining. When the yellow was displayed on Lap 305 the field once again was split on pit strategy, moving Byron up to 10th when he elected not to come down pit road. Working to maintain his top-10 run, Byron fought through one more restart when the race went into overtime, before collecting his first top-10 finish of the season.
Chase Elliott was the highest finishing car of the Hendrick Motorsports contingent crossing the finish line in the seventh position at the checkered flag followed by Byron’s top-10 effort. Jimmie Johnson was the next Hendrick Motorsports car to cross the stripe, scoring a 12th-place finish with Alex Bowman also earning a top-15 finish in 14th place.
William Byron: “I’m really proud of the effort by the team. We didn’t have the best execution, but we had pretty decent execution throughout the day at least. I hate that we got into the No. 6 (Ross Chastain) there. We had a little bit of damage, but overall, not bad. We fought really hard. A top 10 is good for how the day was overall. We’ll move on from it and go to Atlanta.”