Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – Alex Bowman showed up in the Pocono Raceway Media Center feeling as confident and optimistic as he has in his young career. The 26-year old is coming off the best four-race stretch he’s ever turned in – including three consecutive runner-up finishes at Talladega, Dover and Kansas.
Last week he answered with a seventh place run in the sport’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This week he has every reason to feel like a contender in Sunday’s Pocono 400 at the historic 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
And now everyone else expects him to be.
“Absolutely, I think our cars have been really strong lately,” Bowman said. “It’s been a lot of fun going to the race track the last month. I’ve definitely been enjoying that and I’m really proud of everyone at Hendrick Motorsports.
“All four of our cars have been really strong lately, so that’s been good.”
The fact Bowman’s teammates – seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and second-year driver William Byron – have shown vast improvement speaks volumes for the team’s state of competition.
At most tracks they visit, the 83-race winner Johnson shows up the winningest driver there and his six top-10s through only a third of the season is already more than half his season total in both 2017 (11 top 10s) and 2018 (11 top 10s).
Elliott has already won once in 2019 – taking the Talladega trophy – and Byron sat on pole last weekend and has improved his Cup results on a near weekly basis. All four Hendrick drivers are ranked among the Playoff-eligible 16 heading into Sunday’s race.
While Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have combined for 12 victories through the season’s opening 13 races – this Hendrick quartet has shown itself ready to arrive at the victory party. And Bowman, in particular, has quickly established his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 a weekly contender as of late.
He comes to Pocono, Pa. fresh off his best ever finish at the historically tough speedway – a third place in the late summer race last year. At the time, that third place run was the best finish in his four fulltime Cup seasons.
“Obviously, we had a really strong day at the second race here last year,” Bowman allowed. “The package is so different that I don’t think there is much we can really transfer over. I don’t think you’ll be wide open, but it’s going to be very little lifting and not a lot of brakes. Everything is going to be very different.
“I’m excited to see how it’s going to drive. I like new and different things, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Bowman’s three top fives through 13 races already equals his career-best for a single season – set last year. Plus, he has four top 10s. And right now, he has plenty of momentum and confidence to compete with some of the best in the series.