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CONCORD, N.C. -- Alex Bowman ran a close race Sunday afternoon in NASCAR’s return to racing at Darlington Raceway. 

The driver of the No. 88 finished second at the track “Too Tough to Tame” and was close to taking the lead from winner Kevin Harvick toward the end of the race. At one point he led the field for a total of 41 laps.

"It was a lot of fun to get to race a guy like Kevin (Harvick) at a place like Darlington,” Bowman said. “We just needed a little bit more. I don’t really know what it was. At times we were tight, at times we were free. Neither times were we faster than the No. 4 on the long runs. So, I thought if I could get him there on the restart, we’d have a shot at it, but just came up a little bit short."

Bowman said he could have been a little more aggressive but that would have likely resulted in both him and Harvick crashing. He called the first race back a unique way to get used to NASCAR’s new normal and is proud of how the team hit the ground running.

“It's really different than how we started the season the last two years,” he said. “I feel like our cars, the biggest thing, when we're off a little bit, we're not running 20th anymore. If we have a bad run, we fall back to eighth.”

Previously, Bowman’s best finish at Darlington was 18th, making his second-place finish a vast improvement. Along with his victory at Fontana, Bowman currently is second in the rankings.

“I felt great the way we started the season. Unloading in Las Vegas, I think we saw our racecars were going to be really strong. To continue that after we got shut down and firing everything back up, to continue the strength that we had means a lot,” he said.

“In a sense it didn't really give people maybe the complete opportunity to catch up, but it at least gave them some opportunity. I think for everybody at (Hendrick Motorsports) to stay on top of things, improve our racecars, I think we didn't just come back with what we had in Vegas and Fontana, I think we came back with something better. We need to keep working on it because everybody around us is constantly getting better, as well.”