CONCORD, N.C. – The Round of 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup came to a close Sunday at Phoenix, and Hendrick Motorsports emerged with two top-10 finishes.
Now, with only one race remaining in the 2016 Sprint Cup season, let’s take a look at what we learned.
BOWMAN IMPRESSES AT HOME TRACK
As an Arizona native, Alex Bowman had plenty of added motivation to excel this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
And he did just that, starting with his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole position on Friday.
He followed that up by leading a race-high 194 laps on Sunday.
“It was a really fun day,” Bowman said. “(No. 88 team crew chief) Greg (Ives) and all the guys made great changes all day. We had the best car all day long.”
Though he lost the lead late in the race, he advanced all the way back to second place before the race went green in overtime.
But contact on the restart halted his run back to the front, shuffling him back to fifth.
“Really disappointed,” he said. “I hate that we got into Matt (Kenseth) like that. Just a really disappointing end to the day, but one of those deals. Just a racing deal.”
In the end, he took the checkered flag in sixth.
While the result was frustrating, the experience was one that Bowman won’t soon forget.
“I don’t think I have ever led a Cup race before and to lead as much as we did and to run like we did today is amazing,” he said. “It really means a lot to run like this and I am just very happy, excited, and just glad to be here. I just have to thank everybody that gave me this opportunity. I am just really appreciative.”
JOHNSON READY FOR FINALE
Like Bowman, Jimmie Johnson made his way to the front of the pack to lead laps Sunday at Phoenix.
But also like his teammate, he was disappointed in his final result – a 38th-place finish after a pit-road penalty and contact late in the race that sent him to the garage.
Regardless, now Johnson’s full attention is on next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he will join the Championship 4 with a shot at a seventh Sprint Cup championship.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity to compete for a championship,” he said. “I love racing against these guys. You know each year it's amazing to watch everybody's talent increase, the garage get more competitive, and just how hard we all have to race one another. So, I'm excited about going to Homestead and having a shot at a championship.”
Having clinched his position in the finale at the end of October at Martinsville, he had the most time of any driver to prepare for the championship race.
With “the luxury of a few weeks of time,” Johnson said the No. 48 team will try to capitalize on any edge gained by the early win.
“I think it's more in preparation, digging through notes, watching videos, just being prepared,” he said. “I think that's where a small advantage may come from, and we'll see if we can take advantage of that.”