How rain strategy helped Alex Bowman end his drought in Chicago

Alex Bowman was victorious in Chicago as wet weather played a role again

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Alex Bowman and his job with Hendrick Motorsports was never really in question as his contract runs through the 2026 NASCAR Cup Series season, but the fact that he had not won in over two years and 80 races while his colleagues were doing so made some wonder if he had a future with the organisation. Fortunately, Bowman was finally able to end his NASCAR drought Sunday at the Grant Park 165 in Chicago, even if it meant literal rain on the parade.

Bowman chased down Joey Hand, a sports car star who won Stage 2, and took the lead on Lap 51. While road course racing is not his forte and he would ordinarily have to hang on for 24 more laps, he ultimately had to stay in front for just eight laps.

Heavy rain, far more than what NASCAR could safely run on the street circuit, resulted in the race being delayed for an hour and 43 minutes on Lap 25. Due to time constraints as the track does not have lights, NASCAR switched to a time limit that required the race to end by 20:20 local time even if the it had not reached the advertised distance. Josh Berry crashed into a tyre barrier just moments after Bowman took the lead, burning more time off the clock.

Although his tyres were much older than those of his rivals, crew chief Blake Harris ordered him not to pit with the hope that he could lead until time expired. This ended up being just five laps of green-flag racing, but he quickly faced pressure from the start by the charging Toyotas of Tyler Reddick and Ty Gibbs.

Fortunately for Bowman, Reddick brushed the wall on the 58th and final lap which allowed him to pull away. The win is the eighth of his Cup career and the first for Harris.

“The caution played perfect,” Harris stated. “I don’t know that we had a lot of room to give. Even if the #45 (Reddick) had a clean lap there, it would have been super tight.

“Really just banking off that threshold of what we thought it was going to be, and that was our opportunity to win was staying out, and we kind of discussed that. Once I had his confidence of knowing that’s what we needed to do, as well, it made my call pretty easy.”

“I knew as we got the tyre [temperature], we were a lot better than the #60 (Hand),” continued Bowman.

“I didn’t know what was coming behind us on slicks. I didn’t know how hard I could run without killing the wet tyre just because I haven’t been in that position. Obviously missed all the wet laps at New Hampshire, missed a lot of laps here last year.”

He finished last at the inaugural Chicago race in 2023 due to an engine failure halfway, while he crashed out of the New Hampshire event in June where NASCAR deployed rain tyres on an oval.

“I probably could have made a lot more pace there with three to go and with two to go. I was kind of trying to take care of the tyres, and then I realised that there was slicks coming and ran pretty hard there for the last two laps,” added Bowman.

“I was thinking about I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of laps because there was only so much time left in the race, and I knew with the gap that I saw behind me that we were in a really good spot.”

Win comes as relief for Bowman

While his job is secure for the next two years, Bowman would be lying if he said he wasn’t affected by his lack of success since his last win at Las Vegas in March 2022. 2023 was the worst season of his Cup career since joining Hendrick in 2018, missing the playoffs with the team for the first time and being sidelined for three races due to a vertebra he fractured in a sprint car crash.

In the two years following his Vegas win, his three team-mates won a combined 26 times. William Byron leads with 11 wins followed by Kyle Larson with nine and Chase Elliott with six.

The trio also has victories in 2024, Byron and Larson each holding three (Daytona, COTA, Martinsville for Byron; Las Vegas, Kansas, Sonoma for Larson) while Elliott has a win at Texas.

Alex Bowman celebrates victory at the 2024 Chicago Street Race | NASCAR
Alex Bowman celebrates victory at the 2024 Chicago Street Race | NASCAR

“It’s really difficult,” Bowman admitted. “Obviously, we have all the tools we need to win, and our team-mates have been really good throughout that time, but we just couldn’t put it together.

“It has been a large mental test to go through everything that has happened in the last two years and try to continue to overcome that each and every week, especially when things aren’t going your way, and honestly the last month has been super frustrating for us.

“We’ve had a lot of things outside of our control, cost us a lot of points, and it’s been really frustrating. There’s a lot of emotions that go away with this because of how hard that has been.”

Despite his winless stretch compared to his colleagues’ successes, which would ordinarily result in heightened pressure from his employer, Bowman clarified he never particularly felt his seat was in jeopardy.

He stressed that there has “never been a single conversation with a single person that has questioned anything to do with that at all. It’s all been, ‘What do you need? How can we help you? How can we support the team?

“The great part about Hendrick Motorsports is whatever the noise is outside, everybody inside is never going to tear each other down. They’re always going to be supportive. We’ve had a lot of support from the other three teams and from everybody at HMS over the last couple years.

“But at the same time, it’s more about, for me, just overcoming everything that’s happened in my life in the last two years. It’s been really difficult. The concussion and then to straight away go break my back after recovering from that and then to just tremendously struggle through last year and kind of lose our way a little bit, it was really difficult.

“There’s a lot of noise, and that makes it difficult for the team. I’m proud of my guys for being able to shut that out and work hard each and every week and have confidence in the decisions that we make and the race cars that we bring to the race track.

“It means a lot to me to be able to overcome a lot and do something that I don’t think a lot of people here really would have thought this weekend that we could.”

Justin Nguyen
Justin Nguyen
Justin Nguyen is Total-Motorsport.com's resident NASCAR aficionado and is also the off-road reporter for The Checkered Flag.
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