CONCORD, N.C. – Blake Harris’ first season as the crew chief for Alex Bowman and the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team had highs and lows.
Bowman and the team fired off well with a fourth-place finish in the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. They followed that up with Bowman’s third pole in the last six DAYTONA 500s and then a fifth-place run in that race. The group’s hot start saw Bowman post three top-five results and six top-10s in the opening seven races. The Tucson, Arizona, native even led the points standings for a brief spell.
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However, Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident before the 11th race of the Cup Series season. Bowman’s return came right as the team embarked on a tough summer stretch that saw promising runs spoiled one way or another. The troubles left them on the outside looking in when it came to the playoffs.
"We started the season off super strong," Harris said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s "SiriusXM Speedway" last week. "Felt like we were running up front every week. The performance was there, the speed was there and we were getting the finishes we needed. When he got hurt, we just lost a lot of momentum. When he came back, a couple of tracks that we had to go to right when he came back weren’t necessarily the strongest for him historically. Some of the ones he missed were ones he’s won at and run really well at. It just felt like it threw off the sequence a little bit and it took us a little bit to get back in a rhythm.
"We got into that mid to late summer stretch where it was all or nothing. … Any opportunity we had to be on the aggressive side to get ourselves a win and lock into the playoffs, we had to take those chances. It forced our hand into creating some scenarios for ourselves that didn’t showcase the consistency we had early in the season."
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Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive" right before last week's Thanksgiving holiday, Bowman shared what he learned from the campaign.
"Through those things, you learn a lot about yourself and learn how to stay motivated and work harder," Bowman said of the adversity the No. 48 team faced in 2023. "I feel like you see where your weaknesses are. You can’t change those things overnight. You need to continue to work on them. While we didn’t flip the switch in ’23, there were some good runs for us.
"On my side of things, I am in a really good spot right now training super hard and working super hard."
Harris described the 2023 season as one that was character-building for him and the team. On top of the challenge of not having his full-time driver for about a month presented, Harris was getting adjusted to being with a new group having joined Hendrick Motorsports in November 2022. The Maypearl, Texas, native shared that the support of team owner Rick Hendrick was a constant presence during the trying season.
"It would have been easy for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and Mr. Hendrick to come down on us or look at us as far as us not getting the job done," Harris said. "It has been nothing but support from day one. Everything that I’ve had support-wise from the company and Mr. H through the season with just all the variables that we’re thrown at us, just makes me understand that much more why Hendrick Motorsports is the way that it is."
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The 2023 season marked the first time in his six years with Hendrick Motorsports that Bowman did not qualify for the postseason. The 30-year-old driver did extend his season streak of double-digit top-10 finishes to six with 10 such results in the last racing season. Throughout it all, he was glad that he and his crew chief kept working on all aspects of their relationship.
"There were definitely positives," Bowman said of the season as a whole. "Blake and mine’s communication stayed strong. There was never that self-destruction or starting to rip each other apart or anything like that. Blake stayed really good about trying to help me get the most out of the race car and I stayed on him trying to point the race car in the right direction. I think our pit crew is continuing to get stronger.
"We are going to have a bunch of new faces on the 48 team, so looking forward to that. We have a lot of guys with families that are coming off the road, so excited for them and their futures and excited for the new faces too. I do think we have a strong race team and Blake and I have a strong relationship."
In the closing 10 races, Harris and the team put the focus on gearing up as much as possible for 2024 and continuing to build their notebook. With a full year together under their belts, Harris believes the pieces are there to start strong in the new year.
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"We had the cards that we were dealt," Harris said of last season. "We got put in a unique scenario. Something certainly none of us had scripted for ’23, but we’ll rebuild over this offseason and be ready to hit ’24 running."