After finishing 23rd at Bristol and 17th at Richmond to stumble to 21st in the standings, Alex Bowman and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports crew mentally hit the reset button going into Easter weekend.
Two weeks later, the morale within Bowman and his team has made a 180. One weekend after coming second at Talladega, Bowman blitzed through the field to finish runner-up for second week in a row Monday at Dover International Speedway.
The 26-year-old also led 16 laps in the process and came three turns away from a stage win, as eventual race-winner Martin Truex Jr. ran down and passed Bowman on the last lap of Stage 2.
“We had a miserable start to the season. We did a really good job resetting over the off week,” Bowman said. “We needed this, for sure. Talladega is a speedway; it’s a lot of luck involved. To come here, in my opinion, the hardest racetrack we go to run like that from the back of all things, was pretty special.”
Bowman laid down the fifth-fastest lap in time trials but had to start in the rear because of failing pre-race inspection. By Lap 10, he cracked the top 20. When Stage 1 ended, he had climbed his way to seventh.
After Joey Logano and William Byron pitted during the Stage 1 intermission, which put Bowman fifth on the Stage 2 restart, the second-year Hendrick Motorsports driver methodically worked his way to second.
Bowman picked off Larson for fourth on Lap 162 and then moved into third 14 laps later. He took the lead with 15 laps left in Stage 2, but the stage win slipped away when Truex Jr. passed Bowman on the third-to-final turn of the stage.
Bowman restarted second for the final stage, and slipped to third on a restart, but regained second once green-flag pit stops cycled through with 52 laps to go. By then, though, Bowman trailed Truex Jr. by five seconds and it stayed green the rest of the way.
When asked if he would have had a chance at the win if another caution came out, Bowman said, “New tires vs. new tires, we were probably a little better than him. But it was going to be whoever led on the restart. Clean air today was huge. This place is really tough to pass. We’re going so fast now, we need some clean air.”
“This is probably the best race car I’ve had in a long time,” Bowman added.” Probably best car and really good execution all day aside from one restart.”
In just two weeks, Bowman has climbed from 21st to 13th in points, 173 points behind leader Kyle Busch.
“To have some momentum on your side is a good thing,” Bowman said. “We definitely have momentum. … To be able to [come from the back] is definitely something we can build on.”