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Alex Bowman Makes An “Ally” with Richmond Victory

Raise your hand if you chose Alex Bowman for the Toyota Owners 400 win at Richmond. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Raise your hand if you chose Alex Bowman for the Toyota Owners 400 win at Richmond. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

All things considered, Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond offered a delightful surprise, particularly for Alex Bowman and his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro team.

For a majority of the ninth round of the NASCAR Cup Series season, it looked like a surefire victory for Denny Hamlin or Joey Logano. After all, both finished inside the top three in the first two stages of this 400 lap barnburner.

However, Bowman carried the banner for Hendrick Motorsports with his seventh and fourth place results in the opening two stages at Richmond.

As surprising as Bowman’s victory at Richmond may have seemed, the seventh year Cup Series racer showcased some speed and might in previous races.

Unfortunately, fate seemed to play cruel tricks on Bowman and crew chief Greg Ives. Consider that the No. 48 team crashed in the Daytona 500 and Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 resulting in finishes of 35th and 34th.

On this particular day, Bowman and his team answered the call when opportunity knocked. With 20 laps left in the Toyota Owners 400, Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Cup champ, found himself in the first turn’s wall of voodoo thanks to a flat right rear tire.

Moments before Harvick’s misfortune, Logano took command of the race from Hamlin with 66 laps left, seemingly in position for his second win of the year. Holding the lead up until the Lap 381 caution, Logano led the contenders onto pit road for the race deciding pit stop race.

For most of the Toyota Owners 400, Hamlin looked like the man to beat. (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

For most of the Toyota Owners 400, Hamlin looked like the man to beat. (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Although Logano’s pit crew busted off a solid 12.2 second stop, Hamlin’s team cranked out an even better stop. As a result, the No. 11 team catalyzed their driver with the lead off pit road.

With 12 laps left at Richmond, Hamlin, who elected for the inside line, had a decent margin between himself and Logano. Capitalizing on this short run, Bowman applied the spurs with Hamlin, urging his No. 48 Chevy with “get gone speed.”

By all means, Bowman wasn’t going to be denied with his Sunday drive at Richmond. Taking the inside line from Hamlin on Lap 390 into the first corner, both drivers waged in a spirited but clean double wide battle for the win.

Dogged but determined for the victory, Bowman willed his car past Hamlin on the following lap with a strong run off the second corner.

Much like Jeff Gordon in the 1998 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte or Jimmie Johnson with his Richmond wins, Bowman crafted his way around the track in the final laps for his first victory of the year in surprising fashion.

Sometimes, good things come in small surprises. In Bowman’s case, a nice surprise came at one of NASCAR’s fabled short tracks one week before his 28th birthday.

“We took off,” Bowman recalled with his lap 391 heroics. “My strong suit all day was being able to get into the corner really deep. I was able to get in deep, aside Denny. I knew I had the preferred lane, could probably clear him. And I kind of figured he would get right back to me and be faster than us.”

On this occasion, Bowman’s Chevy ran like a steam engine on rails in the final 10 laps. While understandably confident, Bowman was a bit surprised with the finish.

“When we drove away, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s happening?'” Bowman said. “We had some really fast laps there. I was super loose the last couple laps. I did my best to get it back away. We just really improved the race car there, had a lot of grip taken off.”

Typically reserved and mild mannered, Bowman dedicated his victory to William “Rowdy” Harrell a former University of Alabama football player who was a tire carrier for the Arizonan last year.

“Rowdy was that big, outgoing personality that really kept the group pumped up in any situation, really held us all together,” Bowman observed. “He was always happy, no matter what the circumstance was.

“He meant a ton to our race team. (And) he’s probably the first guy when I filled in in the 88 back in the day to really make me feel super welcome, feel like he had my back. He was just a huge part of our team.”

Certainly, Alex Bowman’s victory was a sentimental one for the Hendrick campus in more ways than 48. Chiefly, Bowman drove the No. 48 Chevy back to victory lane for the first time since Jimmie Johnson’s win at the Dover spring race in 2017.

Moreover, Bowman scored Hendrick’s first victory at Richmond since Johnson’s triumph in the fall 2008 race as observed by The Podium Finish’s Stephen Conley.

“Man, I was 15,” Bowman said. “I was running USAC Focus Midgets. I don’t know where, but probably racing somewhere. It’s really neat. This is a place that as a company we’ve struggled at for a while. To be able to come here and get a win is really cool.”

Making this victory even cooler for Bowman is that he and the No. 48 team can race quite aggressively from here onto the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona in August, the regular season finale.

“There’s never a sit back and relax mode at Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman remarked with an earnest confidence. “We’re expected to race for wins. All of our partners want us to go out and win.

“That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to win a lot of races this year hopefully. I feel like I have a great group of guys behind me to be able to make that happen.”

While Hamlin raced to another runner up finish, the Virginian did not seem too crestfallen after the Toyota Owners 400.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s frustrating for sure,” Hamlin said. “I’d rather be where I am than Alex Bowman. I don’t care that he’s got a win. We’re smashing everyone. I’d still rather be where I’m at.”

As for third place finisher Logano, the 2018 Cup champ reflected on what could have been at Richmond.

“You get frustrated being so close, but at the same time at least you’re close, so you kind of go back and forth with that in your mind,” he said. “Solid run for us. No win. Had fun racing Denny there for a while. It was a good battle there for the lead back and forth throughout those long runs. Unfortunately, none of it was for the win.”

Next weekend presents quite the challenge for Bowman, Hamlin and Logano with Talladega looming for the GEICO 500 (Sunday, April 25th at 2 p.m. EDT on FOX). Although these drivers typically have fast drives for this wild card race, as Bowman mused, there will be no rest for the weary.

Next Sunday's birthday boy Alex Bowman celebrates a surprising Richmond win. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Next Sunday’s birthday boy Alex Bowman celebrates a surprising Richmond win. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“Nobody sleeps well going to Talladega,” Bowman said with a laugh. “There’s a high probability of hitting stuff really hard. That’s just part of this race week. Superspeedways, we like to tear some stuff up.

“I think I made 12 laps at the Daytona 500 this year. Not going to sleep any better since we have a win. But at least we won’t have to hit the panic button because of points.”

Stage 1 Top 10 finishers: Hamlin-Truex-Logano-Byron-Blaney/Bell-Bowman-Austin Dillon-Keselowski-Harvick

Stage 2 Top 10 finishers: Hamlin-Truex-Logano-Bowman-Harvick/DiBenedetto-Kyle Busch-Byron-Bell-Almirola

Top-10 finishersBowman-Hamlin-Logano-Bell-Truex/Almirola-Byron-Kyle Busch-DiBenedetto-Austin Dillon

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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