Column: Alex Bowman’s “Rookie” Joke Prompts A “Serious” Question

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS, NV – Twitter can be a dangerous weapon, when it comes to getting facts straight, as Alex Bowman highlighted this week in Las Vegas.

A fan on Twitter asked Bowman if he is the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie to qualify for the Playoffs. With tongue in cheek, Bowman replied in the affirmative.

In reality, other rookies have qualified for the postseason, notably Denny Hamlin in 2006 (when he won both Pocono races from the pole), Chris Buescher in 2016 (when he won a rain-shortened race at Pocono) and Chase Elliott in 2016 (when he made the Playoffs on points and finished 10th in the final standings).

So, first, Bowman wouldn’t be the first rookie to make the Playoffs. Second, he isn’t a rookie. Though 2018 is his first full-time year in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, it isn’t his first full season.

Bowman spent a couple of admittedly forgettable years in lower-level equipment before earning his place as the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bowman’s rookie year was 2014, when he competed as a 21-year-old for BK Racing.

Bowman says the whole “rookie” phenomenon is an inside joke.

“It’s just been a joke on Twitter all season, so I’m just committing to it,” Bowman told the NASCAR Wire Service. “I think it pays to win Rookie of the Year, so I’m trying to beat (teammate) William (Byron) for that. I think we’re ahead of him in it right now—but, no, it’s a joke.

“Some people on Twitter really don’t get it, and it’s really funny, but I got asked (on Playoffs media day) what it’s like to be the first rookie to make the Playoff, as a serious question, which I don’t know where that came from… Somebody was reading Twitter and took it to be fact way too much.”

KYLE LARSON SINGS THE PRAISES OF DEPARTING TEAMMATE

Team owner Chip Ganassi confirmed this week that veteran driver Jamie McMurray won’t be returning to the No. 1 Chevrolet next season.

Ganassi plans to offer McMurray an advisory role with the team, similar to that of Dario Franchitti on the IndyCar side of the equation. Ganassi driver Kyle Larson says McMurray’s exit will leave a large void to fill, from a personal standpoint.

“I think you always care who your teammate is, for sure, and I have enjoyed having Jamie for my whole Cup career,” Larson said. “He has been such an amazing friend and teammate, and he has taught me a bunch on and off the track.

“So I don’t know what his future holds or what, but he has done a lot for my life and my career… I don’t think that there’s anybody else in the garage that could have taught me the things that he did and was as nice as he was to me as a young (driver) when I first came in. There’s no better teammate than Jamie McMurray.”

McMurray isn’t the only silly-season casualty this year. Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, remains unsigned for next year and has been touted as a possible replacement for McMurray.

Roush Fenway Racing team owner Jack Roush also confirmed on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that this season will be Trevor Bayne’s last in the No. 6 Ford. Roush said he is talking to several possible successors but wouldn’t elaborate.

SHORT STROKES

Ryan Newman, who missed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs this year, nevertheless stormed to the top of the speed chart in Saturday morning’s practice session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Newman ran 183.892 mph to outpace Playoff driver Ryan Blaney (183.268 mph). Showing speed for the second straight week, Clint Bowyer had the fastest consecutive 10-lap average (181.010 mph). Pole winner Erik Jones was second in that category at 180.841 mph.

Jones jumped to the top of the chart in final practice, running a lap at 181.251 mph to edge Blaney (181.238 mph) for the fastest lap. Playoff drivers occupied 10 of the top 14 spots in Happy Hour, including the top four. Jimmie Johnson continued to struggle in final practice, posting the 24th quickest lap at 177.521 mph, an ill omen for a driver who enters Sunday’s South Point 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) seeded 15th with no Playoff points.