CONCORD, N.C. – Heading into the third race of the playoffs, Alex Bowman and the No. 88 team are eighth in the playoff standing after their ninth-place finish at Richmond last Saturday. Now the team is preparing a night race at Bristol Motor Speedway where only the top 12 drivers will move on to fight for a championship.
For crew chief Greg Ives, the formula to keep Bowman and the No. 88 team in contention is simple: have Bowman stay grounded in his training and remain fluid with the ever-changing track conditions and scenarios.
“It’s drama at its finest, whether it’s an underdog or someone you think should be solidly in it in a scenario where they’re having to fight and claw,” Ives said of the playoffs of SiriusXM Radio. “For us, we got to stay focused on being solid.”
Bowman has been more than solid as the regular season drew to a close and the playoffs began. The 27-year-old driver has finished inside the top 10 in the last four races, including the playoff races at Darlington (sixth) and Richmond. However, Bowman is only 27 points above the playoff cutoff line. Eight driver currently sit below him and are hungry to dominate Bristol to move on to the Round of 12.
“Honestly, throughout Richmond, I wasn’t too worried about the other car numbers,” Ives said of staying ahead of the other drivers. “As far as going to Bristol, it’s a cutoff race. You want to be mindful of those guys behind you that may have a good race and put you in jeopardy if you have an issue.”
At Bristol, the issues can be unpredictable. "Thunder Valley" is just a .533-mile track and, combined with night racing, forces drivers to bring out a different skillset. Bowman has seen both sides of the coin at Bristol this season. He was involved in a race-ending accident during the regular-season race in May but finished eighth during the All-Star Race in July.
“We’ve had two cracks at Bristol. I think each time we’ve been improving,” Ives said. “I feel like we have a car capable of running in the top 10 each stage and moving forward to the top five. … This next round is going to be a good one for us as a team and we just got to make sure we come out of Bristol with certain goals in mind.”
Tune in to see Bowman under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.