CONCORD, N.C. – Alex Bowman knew he needed a big weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway to secure his place in the Round of 12 of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
He started it on the right foot with a third-place qualifying effort, but the second-row starting spot didn’t make Sunday any less stressful.
“It hit me about an hour before the race – it was about a four-hour-long anxiety attack is what it felt like,” Bowman said. “I’ve never been one to let pressure get to me, but this one got to me, for sure.”
But for all the pressure he felt, he didn’t show it, finishing inside the top 10 in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 to gain five extra points.
With fewer than 25 laps to go, No. 88 team crew chief Greg Ives made the call to send Bowman down pit road for fresh tires and fuel.
The strategy paid off.
While it left him outside the top 25 when he returned to the track, Bowman was on fresher tires and didn’t have to worry about saving fuel. That allowed him to race through the field to the verge of the top 10 before a multiple-car incident shook up the front of the field and brought out a red flag.
“We had 20-lap fresher tires than all the guys in front of us,” Bowman said. “Things kind of fell our way there at the end to get us up front.”
When the race resumed, Bowman lined up fifth for the restart with three laps remaining.
Maintaining a narrow cushion above the cutoff line, he continued to race toward the front and ventured that he “probably should have won” had he not gotten “boxed out in that last restart.”
Ultimately, he crossed the finish line in fourth, and it was enough to secure his spot in the next round of the playoffs.
It marked Bowman’s third top-five finish of the season and his best-career finish on a road course.
“It was a long day, but glad to make it through,” he said. “A lot of people said we were going to be one of the guys out, and to make it in and prove some of those guys wrong definitely makes me feel good.”