“Hi, My name is Alex Bowman and I can drive a racecar … still.”
It sounds like he is preaching to a choir, partially because he is. After all, Bowman is a racecar driver. But that wasn’t the case for a few months.
From November until now, Bowman had only a part-time deal. Being released from contract with Tommy Baldwin Racing in January, he found out like any normal 22-year-old would, by going on Twitter and refreshing his feed.
The move came as a surprise to a man who was entering his third full season in NASCAR’s premier division. But no matter the situation, Bowman rebounded due to a contract that just happened to be what might be the break he needed.
Bowman signed a nine-race deal in November to compete for JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series. When he was released from TBR, the ride with JR Motorsports became his only commitment, leaving him without a full-time ride. Advanced Auto Parts and Cessna eventually announced they would sign on as his primary sponsors.
Finally, Bowman had the chance to step behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car once again. The former Cup Series driver entered Dover International Speedway ecstatic about the opportunity to drive a car that has been split between Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott through the first nine races of the XFINITY Series season.
During the first practice session of the weekend, Bowman circled around the track in the No. 88 Chevrolet in the fifth position. Making his first laps since last year’s season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he admitted that he was a little rusty at first. However, the rust ended quite rapidly.
Running 34 laps in the first practice and 28 in Happy Hour, the young man known for being hyperactive and enthusiastic was out and about, showcasing those traits.
Bowman started the first of two 40-lap heat races in third. His No. 88 car was solid throughout the warm-up for the 120-lap main event, but failed to keep up with Dash for Cash qualifiers Erik Jones and Justin Allgaier. He came into the garage area in the same position he started with, putting his car in the fifth position for the main.
As Bowman lined up for the grid for his first start with JR Motorsports, the expectations began to increase. Reporters were murmuring about his potential in the race, citing that the car with the lead in the owner standings.
They were right.
Working his way into the runner-up position right off the bat, Bowman and his No. 88 car appeared to be on a mission. He ran second until Lap 45, when he snatched the lead away from eventual race winner, Jones. Leading 33 laps, Bowman paced the field more on Saturday afternoon than he has in 41 prior XFINITY Series races.
Jones recaptured the lead on Lap 78 from Bowman, never giving it up. However, Bowman stayed on pace with the No. 20 car until the end of the day.
When Brendan Gaughan got loose, spinning out at the exit of Turn 2 onto the apron, the caution came out. With less than 10 laps to go, the decision needed to be made: pit or not to pit. Bowman chose to pit. He came out of pit road in the sixth position, behind teammate Elliott Sadler, who worked his way from the 32nd starting position to as high as third before the final caution.
But with Jones, Justin Allgaier, Joey Logano and Darrrell Wallace, Jr. opting not to pit, Bowman lost his track position. The green flag came back out with five laps to go, and Bowman set his sights on the lead. However, he could not maintain pace with Jones and Wallace.
Bowman ended the day in the third position, tying a career-high that was set at Daytona in Feb. 2013 with RAB Racing. In his XFINITY Series career leading up to Dover, he had led 14 out of 7,154 laps in those 41 contests. Making his first start in the division since last year, when he filled in for John Wes Townley in the No. 25 car at Michigan and Indianapolis, Bowman earned his third career top-five finish.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 14, 2016
More importantly, Bowman has earned the confidence needed moving forward as he looks to return to full-time competition.
“It means a lot to me,” Bowman said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve led anything. I was smiling from ear-to-ear every lap when I was out front. I was trying to focus on really finishing it off. I would have liked to finish in the top 2 because I’ve finished third before. We’re going win some this year.”
Bowman has acknowledged that he has spoken to team owner Earnhardt, Jr. about running more races with JR Motorsports, but it is dependent on funding. If more sponsors can sign on, he will be seen in more than the remaining eight events. If not, then he’s focused on signing a deal to return to full-time competition in 2017.
Said Bowman, “It makes me want to come back to the racetrack. We have eight more of these this year, so I think there’s definitely a good shot that we win a couple.”
When Bowman comes back to Dover in October with the No. 88 team, he is set to turn his third-place finish into a triumph.