Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS, NV – You’ve heard the term “gym rat?”
That’s a player who wears out the hardwood with extra basketball practice.
Well, Alex Bowman used to be a “sim” rat.
Before he landed his current full-time ride in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Bowman’s day job was driving the organization’s simulator, helping to fine-tune the HMS Chevy’s of Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With Earnhardt and Kahne now retired, and succeeded by Bowman and William Byron, respectively, you might think simulator work would be even more important to the HMS drivers.
You’d be wrong.
In a surprising revelation at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, Bowman said he hasn’t been in the simulator at all this year – even with a new competition package making its debut in the 2019 season. The reason? Hendrick struggled through a trying 2018 season and doesn’t have its cars at a consistently high enough level of performance to make simulator work reliable and useful.
“I don’t think I’ve been in a simulator in… I think I got ready for Watkins Glen there last year, and that was it,” said Bowman, who will start 11th in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “I haven’t been in there. It’s kind of hit-and-miss.
“We tried to use it a lot at the beginning of last year and kind of felt like some places it’s kind of got us off of where we needed to be, and other places it really helped. We weren’t at a spot with our race cars where we could consistently use it effectively.
“I think once we get our race cars to where we need to be and we can focus on that, it’s something we can use a lot, but we’ve got all the focus on trying to get the race cars where they need to be right now.”
RCR CARS ARE FASTEST IN RACE TRIM DURING SATURDAY PRACTICE
The two cars that were fastest in qualifying trim on Friday retained that distinction in Saturday’s only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon and No. 8 Chevy of Daniel Hemric ran 1-2 during a wild practice session that preceded the Boyd Gaming 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the 1.5-mile track. Dillon covered the distance in 30.299 seconds (178.224 mph) on his fastest lap, with Hemric, his Richard Childress teammate, at 30.496 seconds (177.072 mph).
Hemric, though, was fastest in 10-consecutive-lap average (176.181 mph), narrowly edging Dillon (175.975 mph) for that distinction.
“The car is pretty good,” said Danny Stockman, Dillon’s crew chief. “We had a good test here a month ago. There are a lot of other good, fast cars. It’s just so tough, this Cup Series with all these great drivers and all these really good teams.
“It’s so close and getting the balance right is super important, and that’s what we worked on right here in Happy Hour. I think we’re close. We need to be a little bit better. The speed is definitely there.”
Note: Saturday’s scheduled early morning practice session was canceled because of rain, which cleared out in time for Happy Hour.