By Eric Young
JOLIET, Ill. — After several second-place finishes, Alex Bowman is now a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner.
Bowman held off a late-race charge by Kyle Larson to earn his first-career Cup Series victory in the Camping World 400 June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway.
“I’m pretty speechless,” Bowman said. “I feel like I just want to get home and enjoy it with my friends. It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life and now that we’ve went and won a race, I don’t really know what to do with myself a little bit.”
“I don’t come from a racing family,” Bowman said. “I don’t have a big resume. I kind of went from running in the back every week to doing this. Still, not quite sure how that all happened, but it’s been a heck of a ride. Just very thankful for the opportunity. Thankful for getting to work with people like Greg Ives and this 88 team.”
Bowman, ironically, led 88 laps — the same number as his car — on the way to the victory. Most importantly, after Kyle Larson passed Bowman at lap 160, Bowman was able to battle back and regain the lead on lap 262 and hold off Larson for the final five laps.
“I’m just kind of tired of running second,” Bowman said. “I felt like we had a car capable of winning and we got help up there for a while. I got super frustrated with some lapped cars, just because, not helping us. Which they don’t have to help us, but that’s just part of it.”
“We lost a big lead there,” Bowman continued. “I got pretty frustrated, burnt the right rear tire off trying to get around some lapped cars and when Kyle got around me, I was going to tear the right side off it trying to run the fence or get back around him. Glad we kept it out of the fence, and I was kind of surprised that he left the top open like he did and left clean air up there and surprised it worked.”
For the second year in a row, Larson earned a second-place finish in a late-race battle with the eventual winner.
“We had a good battle there,” Larson said after the race. “Me and Alex battled it seemed like most of the race there. I was surprised I was able to get to him. When we left the green flag stops, my balance was kind of free and I figured he was just going to take off and I was really focused on Joey in my mirror and trying to hold him off and all of the sudden I was like, oh wow, we’re catching him.”
“Caught him pretty quickly too, and was able to get by him pretty quickly too, and thought I could pull away, but he was able to get some big runs on me and get to my inside and then side-draft me down the backstretch and get by and then do a good job of hitting his marks and getting the balance back underneath him to hold me off,” Larson said.
Larson said he expected it to be tougher to pass Bowman for the lead.
“He’s really aggressive and we always race each other really hard,” Larson said. “But I was able to get by him and like I said, when I got out in front of him — when I was behind him, I could see he was struggling. He was really loose off of four, a little bit off of two. I felt like my balance was really good at that point. You’d have through if I could stretch out to a four- or five-car-length gap I could win. But he got a big enough run off of four to get a good tow off the front stretch and get to my inside.”
For a while it looked like Logano might be the one to have a chance at Bowman, as he and Larson battled for second. But Logano ended up with a third-place finish.
“I was hoping to make a run at him there after that last green flag cycle,” Logano said. “We had a great pit stop and caught the 42 and were racing with him and the car just got tight there at the end and they drove away.”
Logano said he wasn’t surprised to see the Hendrick cars run as good as they did at Chicagoland.
“They’ve been slowly but surely picking up speed the last six weeks,” he said. “You knew it was just a matter of time before one of them was going to win. It seemed like certain things were happening, execution issues, things like that, but their speed has been close. I think today it showed.”
Jimmie Johnson led a chunk of laps at the beginning of the race on the way to a fourth-place finish. He said he hopes to use that to propel the team further as the season continues.
“Take a deep breath, enjoy it,” Johnson said. “Celebrate it some and then Monday, we get back to work and try to get better. It gives us a nice direction. Helps us build confidence in the areas that we’ve been working and hopefully we can continue to build on this.”
The race was stopped after 11 laps for rain and resumed almost three-and-a-half hours later. The race had 23 lead changes among 13 drivers. Kevin Harvick led the most laps with 132, but hit the wall in the middle of the race and was only able to rally to a 14th-place finish.
There were five cautions for 25 laps.