Not Backing In To Victory Lane

March 7, 2022 | Blog

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I love giving Kyle Busch credit when credit is due, but the sheer idea that Alex Bowman “backs his way into every *&#(%ing win that he ever *&X(%ing gets” isn’t a take I agree with.

I will say that Kyle and older brother Kurt Busch both have similar gifts: racecar driving and coming up with angry one-liners.

But Alex Bowman is a wheelman and has never backed his way into anything in his life. Now celebrating his seventh NASCAR Cup Series victory, Bowman is showing his talent that I don’t think a lot of people realized five years ago.

Las Vegas Race Results | Season Standings

Selected to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports following Junior’s retirement at the end of the 2017 season, many saw Bowman as a placeholder until a bigger name free agent was available to come in and complete the HMS juggernaut. At the time of Bowman’s full-time arrival, Hendrick’s stable included Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and 7-Time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson.

What had Bowman done before that? Not much. Sure, he was a test driver for Hendrick and filled in a handful of races in 2016 when Dale Jr. was sidelined by a concussion (scoring three top-10 finishes and a pole in 10 races in the No. 88 in 2016.) But in reality, it seemed like his Cup Series career was going to flame out before it even started. In two full-time seasons prior to joining Hendrick Motorsports, his average finish was outside the top-30.

What Dale Jr. and Rick Hendrick saw in Alex Bowman baffled me at the time. But now, four full seasons and three starts later, Bowman is showing the world what others didn’t realize. His number of top-10 finishes has improved in all four seasons between 2018 and 2021, and now that he has his first win (and first top-10 finish of the season,) he’s in the playoffs and poised for another multi-win season.

To say that “Bowman the Showman” backs his way into every win he’s had in his Cup Series career is ridiculous. He has proven he is a top-tier driver and has taken advantage of situations he’s been presented to score wins and put himself in position to contend for a championship.

That Being Said…

I also want to credit Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team for their performance on Sunday, regardless of the fact he didn’t end up in Victory Lane. Busch backed his Camry into the wall during practice on Saturday, causing the team to pull out their backup car.

Their backup car, by the way, was a team backup car (not slated specifically for Busch) due to the lack of finished inventory for this new Next Gen build. The team said this was a “spare parts” car and that racing it on Sunday was going to be a difficult challenge.

Did that stop the 18 team? Heck no. They pulled together and got the spare parts car into raceable condition on Saturday, and after starting at the back on Sunday, got the lead by lap 106, and was within earshot of victory before a late caution derailed their plans for victory.

I love Kyle’s tenacity and his desire to be the best. But I also recognize that you can’t win everything, no matter how much you want to. Kyle has won a lot of races in his career. But I think he could have more (particularly at the Cup Series level) if he would just get out of his own head sometimes. I think Kyle needs to seriously look at the big picture more than he does and understand that, yes he could have won on Sunday.

But given where he was early Saturday afternoon, a top-five finish on Sunday is something to be celebrated.

That Late Caution…

Another strong run for Erik Jones and the Petty GMS Motorsports team came to an end with two laps to go on Sunday when Jones got loose exiting Turn 4 and smacked the wall, collecting Bubba Wallace in the process and bringing out a race-altering caution.

Despite the ultimate 31st-place finish, Jones showed again that he’s capable of running up front and challenging for wins. Meanwhile teammate Ty Dillon’s growing pains of his re-entry into full-time Cup Series competition is continuing. A 20th-place effort for the No. 42 team is meeting expectations according to Dillon. But I think this team is capable of more.

I’ll also say this: the Petty GMS team is KILLING it with their paint schemes this year. I was reluctant to embrace the forward shifting of car numbers this year, but the design team at PGM continues to show why their paint schemes are some of the best early on into the 2022 season.

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