Being a rookie in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series might be one of, if not the most challenging part of some racer’s lives. This year, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year class is abundant. Even though one rookie has lost his ride due to funding issues, the rest of the rookie class appears to be secure in their seats – at least for the remainder for the season.
Alex Bowman, 21, is one of those rookies. Bowman is racing for the underfunded BK Racing organization. After releasing both of their primary drivers from the 2013 season, BK Racing opted to go with two rookie drivers at the helm of their Toyota Camry’s with Bowman as well as Ryan Truex. Together, the pair has had their struggles, but there is light at the end of the tunnel in Bowman’s eyes.
“The transition to the Cup Series has been a challenging one. Having a crew chief in Dave Winston and a great team around me, it has made that transition easier,” Bowman said.
After racing for RAB Racing in 2013, Bowman proved to BK Racing’s owner, Ron Devine, that he was capable of racing in NASCAR’s highest rank. Bowman tested for the organization over the off-season at Charlotte and also appeared at the Daytona test.
However, with the jump to the Sprint Cup Series, the No. 23 team has experienced adversity 12 races into the season. In his lone Nationwide Series season, Bowman had six top-10 finishes, and also had two pole awards. This year has been anything but successful though. His best finish was 22nd at the Auto Club Speedway, yet he has had seven finishes of 32nd or worse.
“The longer races have been the biggest transition for me. When you add the extra 100 or 200 miles or laps it takes time to get used to it,” he said to Speedway Digest. “We need to continue to get better each and every week and I feel that we will continue to become more competitive. We need to continue to get better each and every week and I feel that we will continue to become more competitive.”
What has been Bowman’s culprit this year? It is simple – bad luck. At Martinsville, he was on his way to a solid run, but wrecked multiple times and was relegated to a 36th place finish.
As an underfunded team, BK Racing utilizes Race Engines Plus, owned by Joey Arrington. Besides BK Racing, Joe Nemechek’s Identity Ventures Racing. Entering this season, expectations were not set high for Bowman, and he understood that. Moreover, the team has sporadically performed well this year, but their results don’t show it. Having three consecutive top-30 finishes at Darlington, Richmond and Talladega was a step in the right direction for this small team, even though it does not sound like the greatest of achievements.
“Probably my feedback to Dave and the crew guys. I continue to get use to the way these Sprint Cup Series cars drive compared to a Nationwide car,” Bowman said on what he needs to improve on.
Meanwhile, as Bowman continues to look for success, his teammate, the younger brother of Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., has had some struggles. Truex has more experience in NASCAR competition than Bowman, but has not finished better than 30th this season after missing the Daytona 500 and the race at Texas. Currently, the No. 23 team with Bowman sits 34th in owner points and is relatively safe from missing races. Meanwhile, Truex's No. 83 team is 42nd in owner points, and is not guaranteed into each event.
Amidst their struggles, the two have developed a close bond, closer than just teammates. With such a small team, they are able to work with each other in multiple ways, on and off the race track. Besides developing a friendship, their crews led by Winston and Doug Richert, are now working better, and results are on their way.
“Ryan and I try to work together and compared notes and driving styles. Dave has been great to work with. Him brings a ton of knowledge from the team’s that he has worked with in the past. Dave is certainly a calming voice on the radio each weekend.”
As he continues to adjust to the higher level of competition, expect the Arizona native to run closer to the top half of the field. It is going to be a long, tough road, but Bowman believes he is up for the challenge. The new qualifying format which NASCAR implemented at Phoenix has also helped him gain extra experience, something extremely valuable for a driver looking to find a home for multiple years at a young organization.
“(The) Biggest adjustment is that these guys never take a lap off. Each and every lap they go as hard as they can.”
Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt, two of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders, might be searching for a new job after the eighth event of the year.
Swan Racing released a statement on Thursday afternoon that they are unsure whether or not their two Toyota teams will be racing at Richmond next weekend.
“Swan Racing is in the process of reviewing its current situation and the ability to continue to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The team has been unable to secure the kind of sponsorship required to effectively operate the team. As a result, the team management is exploring every available option. We hope to be in position to provide a detailed update in the near future," the team said in an official release.
The team is owned by Brandon Davis, and co-owned by former NFL player, Bill Romanowski as well as entrepreneur, Anthony Marlowe. Marlowe is the listed owner for Whitt's No. 26 vehicle on a weekly basis. Prior to investing in Swan Racing, Marlowe sponsored multiple Sprint Cup Series teams with his company, TMone.
Kligerman joined Swan Racing towards the end of the 2013 season as he prepared to leave Kyle Busch Motorsports' Nationwide Series team which was closing due to a lack of funding. He finished ninth in points with three top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. However, he made the move to compete in the Sprint Cup Series on a full-time basis rather than returning to the Camping World Truck Series or racing for another Nationwide Series organization.
During the off-season, Kligerman stated that his goal was to be a top-25 team on a weekly basis. However, he has started out the season with either accidents or mechanical issues in all but one event (Darlington). He was able to race his way into the Daytona 500 after a stunning practice wreck in which his No. 30 Toyota was sent into the midst of the air, flipping multiple times - landing on his roof.
“I think any rookie campaign will have some struggles. It’s a gruesome and long schedule. The Sprint Cup Series is no walk in the talk. It is the best 43 drivers and teams in the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the most competitive racing series in the world is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, I don’t think anyone can argue that when looking at the lap times and stuff like that. There will be times that a rookie will struggle, but the ability to have a consistency and having the average finish you want for the entire season is the key. As long as we can always go out there, always improving and always looking forward, never taking a step back, we will show the people that we’re here to stay, we’re a force to be reckoned with and we’ll keep making that next step towards victory lane," Kligerman said over the off-season when asked what will happen if he will struggle.
Though he has struggled, he has shown improvements, as had Whitt. Whitt finished a career-best 18th at Fontana, but has four finishes of 31st or worse.
The news comes after the team signed Speed Stick to sponsor Whitt's car for the first four races of the year. However, he has been sponsorless since Fontana. Kligerman, however, brought two companies to the team this year - Lending Tree (Daytona) and Aria Hotels (Las Vegas). He also had SMS Audio on his Toyota Camry at Texas and Darlington, but that company has a minority stake in Swan Racing as it is owned by rapper, 50 Cent.
Possibly, the team might not race at Richmond. If that is the case, this could harm the future of both young drivers. They have each experienced sponsorship woes in the past, but not so early in the year at NASCAR's highest tier.
Michael Waltrip is known for his humorous character. However, he has notably taken his one-of-a-kind personality to help develop Michael Waltrip Racing from a marketing standpoint.
Over the past few years, MWR has teamed up with partners such as Five-Hour Energy, Aaron's and NAPA to create some interesting TV-spots. This year, with Brian Vickers driving the No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota on a full-time basis, the organization is working with Aaron's on a brand new commercial.
Vickers is not known for his television skills like Waltrip. However, over the years, Vickers has done multiple commercials, albeit not as outstanding as Waltrip's which have gained notoriety amongst his peers.
This commercial features Vickers in a bathtub - yes a bathtub. Then Waltrip, his boss and two-time Daytona 500 champion, shoves his way through a crowd of teenage girls - showcasing his comical point-of-view. It might be far fetched, but what commercial with Waltrip has not been one that catches the eye of race fans? He even teamed up with Mark Martin over the past two years for some commercials with Aaron's.
The commercial is a part of Aaron's “Own the Life You Want” campaign. This campaign puts a greater emphasis on how “Aaron’s makes owning easy through lease ownership, so you can own the life you want.” Vickers earned his first top-five finish of the 2014 season at the Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend, and continues to improve in his return to full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.