In his 134th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start, Alex Bowman became the 192nd winner of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. After completely dominating the last 40 or so laps of the Camping World 400 in Chicagoland, lap traffic caused Kyle Larson to catch up and pass Bowman. That didn’t deter Bowman as he drove up, passed Larson with six laps to go and got his first Cup win.

Despite being 26, Bowman has gone down a long road in his NASCAR career to get to this point. From racing ARCA and the K&N Series as a teenager, Bowman always had the talent but ran into roadblocks to move up through the ranks. After racing for underfunded teams, Bowman was out of full-time competition after the 2015 season. Racing part-time and grabbing whatever opportunity he could, Bowman was recommended by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to drive the #88 for Hendrick Motorsports when Earnhardt was injured.

Splitting the car with Jeff Gordon, Bowman performed well in top equipment. After finishing in the top ten twice, Bowman won his first career pole position at his home track in Phoenix. Leading 194 laps, Bowman held his own but wound up finishing sixth.

Once Dale Jr. came back to the car, Bowman was once again out of a ride in 2017. Nearly eight months out of the car, Bowman got his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory. From there, Earnhardt retired from full-time Cup competition and recommended Bowman to be his permanent replacement. This would be Bowman’s full-time opportunity.

In his first race racing full-time in the #88, Bowman won the pole at the 2018 Daytona 500. Leading 13 laps and finishing a solid 17th, Bowman scored three top-five finishes and qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs, finishing 16th.

This season, Bowman remained in the top 20 but after a runner-up finish at Talladega, something started to work. Bowman then got another second place finish at Dover and then another at Kansas. Three straight second place finishes on three very different tracks really made Bowman a contender to get his first win sooner rather than later. Five races later, Bowman finished one spot better and took home the trophy.

Alex Bowman talked to The Comeback after scoring his first win. We discussed Alex’s all-night celebration, his journey from racing for underfunded teams to Hendrick Motorsports, and his mindset now that he has made the Playoffs.

Phillip Bupp: Congrats on the win. Have you gotten used to being called a NASCAR Cup Series winner yet?

Alex Bowman: Yeah, thanks. I’m trying to. I don’t really know how to get used to that, but it’s been a lot of fun to get to share with my friends and the whole race team. We’ve been enjoying it for sure, and we’re already back hard at work trying to go win another one this weekend.

PB: The celebration looked wild online. What was the craziest thing you did? Or craziest thing you could tell us?

Bowman: The story that everybody’s liked so far is we had a maple syrup chugging contest. I didn’t partake in that, but a couple of the guys tried to chug a full bottle of maple syrup. So that was pretty interesting, very entertaining to say the least. We had a good time, that’s for sure.

PB: Now you mentioned how you got a lot of texts from people congratulating you. I even saw Peyton Manning and Jack Nicklaus give you a congrats on Twitter. Anyone else we may know who might have surprised you, that they reached out congratulating you?

Bowman: I don’t know anybody that I’ve been surprised by. I got a text from Martin Truex, Jr. yesterday, which was pretty cool. I don’t really know Martin that well, but he’s one of the guys in the garage that I really like, and look up to. So that was really neat. Jimmie [Johnson] was texting me all night asking me to send him drunk pictures, so that was funny. I don’t know, I’m just really appreciative of everybody’s support and everybody that’s reached out.

PB: Now at the race there was a rain delay that went a few hours. You knew you had a great car, a car that was capable of winning. You’ve said that all weekend. Knowing that, when you’re in a rain delay like that, does that play with your mind, to have to wait this out and not knowing when you’ll get back to racing?

Bowman: Yes and no. I mean I was pretty frustrated with the race car that first, really half of the race. We struggled with it, and I had some really poor restarts, and we were just way too tight. We had to make a lot of big adjustments.

During the rain delay to be perfectly honest with you, I just took a nap. So I was really sleepy when I got back in the race car because I had just woken up. I knew that going into the night, when the sun went down and the track cooled down our car was going to be better than it was during the say. So I was looking forward to that, and glad it worked out.

PB: Going back to the start of your career, racing for underfunded teams in the back of the pack, did you think you would not only be at a place like Hendrick, but win a Cup Series race at that point?

Bowman: I think when I was a kid, coming up through the ranks, running ARCA, winning a bunch of races, and then even that first year at Xfinity, I would have said yes. It was really easy to be confident back then. Race wins seemed to be easy, and then getting to Xfinity I overachieved that first year and ran pretty well with a really small race team. I watched it all fall apart due to lack of funding and didn’t have a big sponsor to take me anywhere and didn’t get a big ride. I just took whatever I could get to keep in a race car. 2014, ’15, ’16, there’s no way I would have thought I ended up at Hendrick Motorsports.

I thought that just trying to make a living driving a race car was going to be difficult for me and my career, and it was going to have to be done in that manner where 25th is a really good day. So it’s really cool to start in the back half of the garage and do it the old school way. Obviously a lot of things happened, and a lot of people helped me get this great opportunity, but it’s been pretty neat. I think there’s a lot of talent in the back half of the garage that gets overlooked just because of what they drive. It’s cool to represent that with a win.

PB: Now that you’re now with a top team, do you feel you have a better understanding of the drivers in those cars now? If you’re driving and they hold you up, you’re not as upset at them because you were in that spot?

Bowman: Yeah, for sure. I think most of the stress when you’re in that situation isn’t even how you run, it’s you don’t want to ruin somebody else’s day. So those cars are obviously driving worse than the guys leading the race. They’re a big handful. Typically they have pretty inexperienced spotters and staying out of the way is really difficult at that point. I think there are some guys that do it really well, and then there’s other guys who either don’t do a good job of it or don’t really care too much or whatever. I definitely feel like I have a better understanding of that.

It’s still easy to get frustrated. I mean I was really frustrated with some lap traffic on Sunday. We erased a 3 1/2 second lead because of lap traffic on Sunday, but it’s just part of it. They’re working hard, and it’s tough to stay out of the way. I got my fair share of middle fingers when I was in the way back then, and it’s just part of the game. It’s definitely tough.

PB: Dale [Earnhardt] Jr’s been a very big supporter of yours and recommended you for the #88. And it’s fitting he was in the booth for your first win. I know he’s been a very big part of your career. Have the two of you ever talked and discussed why or how Dale got to be such a big advocate for you?

Bowman: Not really. I’m still trying to figure out that one, too. I guess I got him fooled pretty well [laughter]. I don’t know, I mean we had a little bit of sponsorship, and I wanted to go try to run out front in some Xfinity races in 2014, and him and I just got to talking and we were able to go run those races. After that, we always just stayed in contact and try to put stuff together. I don’t know why he picked me out. I feel like there’s a lot of other really deserving guys out there. I mean you look, Matt DiBenedetto’s super talented. Corey LaJoie does a really good job. There’s a lot of guys in the back half of the field that haven’t had great opportunities that are super good race car drivers.

I don’t know why me, or what was different about me or special, or why it worked out the way it did, but I’m very appreciative of it.

PB: And this season you were hanging around the top 20 at the start of the year, wasn’t really contending. But suddenly a switch flipped, you got three second place finishes, seventh in the Coke 600 and now the win in Chicago. What happened that just made those things click for you and the team, that now you really can do no wrong?

Bowman: I mean to be honest with you, Greg [Ives] and I were trying to do things the same as everybody else, and be the same as some of the other cars in our organization, the #9 was obviously running really good there, and I was trying to drive the car like Chase [Elliott] and try to learn from them, and just trying to be too much like everybody else.

We were both really frustrated. Greg and I sat down and we were like hey, we’re running bad. This isn’t going well. We need to get back to doing our own thing, only worry about us and do what we think is right, driving the race car how I want to drive the race car, and set up the race car how Greg wants to set up the race car. We did that, and it’s been working really well since then.

It was interesting how it all worked out that way. Everybody just needs a little something different, and I’m glad we got back on the same page, and that’s just really how we’ve been approaching it lately.

PB: We’ll get you out of here on this. Now that you’re in the Playoffs, what’s the strategy going forward? Is it all about maximizing stage points and going off strategy if a win prevents itself. Or are you sticking with what got you here for the rest of the regular season?

Bowman: We’re just going to go try to win as many races as we can. There’s not a lot of races aside from the road courses that there’s a big trade off between stage points and that last stage and trying to win the race, so I think we can be more aggressive and take more chances. But stage points and race wins are going to line up together, I feel like, with the exception of Watkins Glen. So we’re just going to go try to win as many as we can and keep running up front.

About Phillip Bupp

News and soccer editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. I also do video highlight game coverage for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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