Alex Bowman Racing for a Ride
Through 13 NASCAR XFINITY Series events in 2016, Alex Bowman has competed in three races. With nine races on his schedule out of the division’s 33, the Arizona native understands he needs to run well to once again compete full-time.
It wasn’t until the 10th race of the season at Dover that Bowman got a shot to go out and drive the No. 88 car for JR Motorsports, which had won two prior races this season at Daytona and Richmond.
At Dover, Bowman started from fifth position after finishing third in the first qualifying heat, won by JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. During a long 71 lap green flag run that opened the event, the No. 88 car raced itself to the front to lead 33 laps en route to a third-place result.
“It was a way to prove that I still belong here,” Bowman told Speedway Digest of his race at Dover. “We drove pass Erik [Jones] and took the lead for a while. It showed that I can contend for wins and it just means a lot that JRM took this chance on me. It let me prove that I deserve to be here.”
Rewind to Jan. 21, the last day of the NASCAR Media Tour, when Bowman found out through Twitter he would not be returning to Tommy Baldwin Racing, replaced by former JR Motorsports driver Regan Smith.
In mid-December, TBR announced it had picked up Bowman’s option 2016 season to drive the No. 7 car in the Cup Series, with Toy State renewing its sponsorship for 13 events in 2016 and 17 in 2017. He is now in the midst of building a foundation to build a long-term relationship with JR Motorsports, with the hope of working with the team to put together a full-time deal next year.
“Dale [Earnhardt, Jr., majority owner] and I have become really close friends, but everyone at JR Motorsports is cool to work with,” Bowman elaborated. “It’s a big family. It’s probably the most fun that I’ve had with a race team. It’s just a lot of good people and a lot of good equipment, and we bring fast cars to the racetrack every week.”
In his second race – the inaugural race at Pocono Raceway for the XFINITY Series – Bowman started the event in 10th and maintained position around the back half of the top 10 all day, finishing right where he started. Since the race was cut 47 laps short due to rain, there is no telling if the No. 88 team could have improved his car to finish higher in the field.
Bowman ran the full XFINITY Series schedule in 2013, minus Homestead for RAB Racing, owned by Robby Benton. He was released of his duties due to a lack of sponsorship. Blake Koch replaced him and finished 13th after starting a career-high second.
Since then, he’s made a stop at BK Racing in 2014, competing for the Rookie of the Year award, along with the aforementioned Tommy Baldwin Racing last year.
Those two teams aren’t among NASCAR elites, with TBR going several races last year with blank cars.
“I just didn’t get chances to win races, but I think that everybody that gets to this point has pretty much won at everything that they have driven to get here,” Bowman said. “I think this year just helps me solidify on people’s minds that I deserve to be here.”
Winning the pole this past weekend in Michigan can’t hurt Bowman. In single-car qualifying trials, the No. 88 Chevrolet was atop the leaderboard. He led the first 11 laps before finishing seventh after restarting second on the final restart with 33 laps remaining.
Bowman has seen worse things than not recording a victory in his NASCAR career. When he was in the Cup Series, he was struggling to finish in the top 30 with a best average finish of 31.6 in 2015. However, his best finish in a Cup Series race, 13th came in 2014 in a rain-shortened event at Daytona in July.
“I think I learned a lot from those two years,” he said. “They were definitely not wasted. I made the most of the situations that I was given. We elevated race teams and helped those teams grow, and at the same time, I learned a lot racing against Cup guys every week for the last two years.”
Bowman’s stop at BK Racing was his first full-time gig in the Cup Series. He had no sponsorship following the 2013 for a ride in the XFINITY Series. It was the No. 23 car or nothing for the 2014 season.
“Yes, but I didn’t have a choice,” Bowman said on if he was rushed to the Cup Series. “It was either that or I was going to sit on the couch because I didn’t have anything else. When I took that first Cup deal, it was either that or sit on the couch and I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot and am able to use that experience that I gained every time that I’m on the racetrack.”
While wishing that it might have been better if he was in a competitive XFINITY Series ride the last two years, Bowman has no regrets. At BK Racing, teamed with Dave Winston as crew chief, he had an average finish of 32.6 with six DNF’s.
Now, Bowman, 23, knows that every race he is in, is a chance to up his stock. If he wants to be in a competitive ride, he feels that winning is a must.
“Anything that can win, I will get in,” Bowman said on what he will drive. “As far as full-time stuff goes, I would love to pull some things together here with JRM. We are working really hard on trying to find partnerships to try and do that. Obviously, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to jump right back into the Cup Series. I want to stay where I can win races.”
In order to get a full-time deal, Bowman needs more days like he has experienced in his first three races behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Having nine races to prove himself on the track, he realizes that those could determine his racing future.
With help of Advance Auto Parts, Cessna and Vannoy Construction, it’s all about building relationships with sponsors.
“It’s really frustrating,” Bowman said of not knowing his future. “I’ve proved that I can contend for wins and I feel like I’m as good as anybody out there, but I don’t have a big sponsor to write a check. It is frustrating at times, but I’m very thankful to be where I’m at and hopefully, we will work something out.”
The No. 88 car currently sits second in the owner standings, seven points behind Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 team. Bowman’s main goal this season is to help Earnhardt and co-owners Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Rick Hendrick win the owner’s championship.
Bowman admits that JR Motorsports brings some of the fastest racecars to the track each week. But in order to win an XFINITY Series race, mistakes need to be at a minimum.
“I think we’re working really hard to try and win this owners championship,” Bowman said. “There is a little pressure to do well for that, but beyond that, I just have to plug in and do my job. I just have to keep plugging in and doing my job the way that the other drivers did when they won their two races.”
Led by second year crew chief David Elenz, the No. 88 team has 12 top-10 finishes in 2016. The only race that the car finished outside of the top 10 was at Atlanta Motor Speedway, when Kevin Harvick finished 12th.
The XFINITY Series heads to Iowa this week, and so does Bowman in his third consecutive race driving for JR Motorsports.
Following that race, Bowman doesn’t have a ride until mid-July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – at least as of now. And though he doesn’t know his future, he knows that winning a race will solve a lot of hassles he has faced throughout his career.
“With the right partnerships and everything if it works out the right way I would love to be here,” Bowman said of wanting to drive for JR Motorsports. “Everyone from JR Motorsports as well as from my side is working really hard to make it happen. I’m pretty content with where I’m at. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I just want to put something together here.”
Dustin is a 20-year-old, currently studying journalism at Ithaca College. Albino has always wanted to report on NASCAR and beginning at the end of 2014 that is exactly what he did with Speedway Digest. Since that time he has become well-known around the garage area and is looking to attend even more races than he did in 2015.