CONCORD, N.C. -- This week, Alex Bowman won't feel as much pressure as his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE earned his third consecutive front-row position for the DAYTONA 500 last Sunday after he placed second in the qualifying session.
Translation: He doesn't have to stress out as much over the Duels on Thursday, which will determine the starting order of the drivers who are not on the front row.
“It’s relaxing in the sense that you know if you don’t crash the car, you’re going to start on the front row, but it’s also like, ‘Okay, we really can’t go crash this car,’" Bowman said. "The last two years we’ve been pretty conservative in the Duel and it’s a balance of when you go down there you really trimmed out with a lot of speed in the car. They don’t drive very well in the pack, so trying to race it really aggressively would be pretty tough, so (we’ll) probably be pretty conservative and have it ready for the 500."
The Hendrick Motorsports teams have had a historic stretch when it comes to starting positions with the DAYTONA 500. Last year, teammate William Byron earned pole with Bowman sitting on outside pole, making them the youngest front-row duo in DAYTONA 500 history.
In 2018, the race began with Bowman leading the field to the green flag, while 2016 and 2017 saw teammate Chase Elliott start his engine at the top spot.
“It’s a lot more to do with the team and their preparation than me, but (it) just means a lot to go down there and be on the four years in a row for them, three years in a row with me driving in it. It’s pretty neat," Bowman said.
Greg Ives, Bowman's crew chief, has been instrumental in earning those front-row positions. However, Ives said he can't help but think if his team pushed a tiny bit harder if they could have secured the pole position.
“There’s a proud moment that you did qualify second, but there’s also that little bit of wondering what could have been if you did get a little bit more,” he said.
"It’s my fourth year in a row on the front row – a few times with Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and now three times in a row with Alex. For me, qualifying second is never always fun when you’re really that close. You kind of think ‘What could I have done better? What could I have done to pull that off?’
"Sometimes it’s weather. Sometimes it’s performance in the car that I need to do a little bit of a better job with the details – getting the car through tech the first time versus (when) we failed tech the first time, so we had to adjust on the car and slow it down a little bit. You think about those things at night, but ultimately when you qualify second at Daytona, especially for the 500, you know either way you get something out of it. We’re secured into our starting position, so we can go through the 150s with confidence that we’re going to start second."
Bowman was able to test his fresh Valvoline Chevy in both the qualifying session and the Clash, which saw him place 15th. Despite his smooth ride during the qualifier, Bowman said the accident-riddled Clash is where he got the best feel for his car.
“Everything’s been really good. I think the Clash was the best test for us, but we kind of spent most of the day saving fuel. We haven’t really have had an aggressive racing situation with our car yet - with either car, really. Hopefully it will be good. We’ll just kind of have to wait and see," Bowman said.
"I told Greg in our meeting I don’t feel like we even raced the Clash," he added. "I feel like it was like a practice session with how single file it was and kind of how the race played out for us. I guess we’ll find out.”