For the last two seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Alex Bowman has essentially been a onlooker on the track.
Bowman made 36 starts in 2014 for BK Racing with an average finish of 32.6. Last year, he made 35 starts for Tommy Baldwin Racing with an average finish of 31.6.
In 71 Cup starts before Sunday, Bowman had a best finish of 13th and only two finishes better than 20th.
Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bowman went from spectator on the track to player.
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On Thursday, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would miss Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 because of concussion-like symptoms. Bowman was tabbed as his fill-in, and the 23-year old made the most of his chance, running in the top 10 most of the race until a cut tire forced his car into the wall and ruined what was shaping up to be a fairy-tale day.
“It was amazing,” Bowman said. “I can’t thank Hendrick Motorsports and all these guys enough. They took me to my worst racetrack by far and made me look good. I’ve just got to thank (team owner Rick Hendrick). I had such an amazing time. … I hate the circumstances and really hope Dale is feeling well, but I had so much fun today. Obviously I hate that we didn’t get the finish we deserved. I’ve raced with a lot of these guys for a long time but raced around them. I’ve never got to actually race with guys like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, all those guys. I had a lot of fun passing really good cars.”
Bowman finished 26th.
On Lap 27,3 a tire rub caused by contact with Carl Edwards on pit road finally let go, putting Bowman into the wall inTurn 1.
“I think ( Edwards) was backing up because he was blocked (into his pit box) as I was leaving the pit box,” Bowman said. “My left rear hit his right rear as I was leaving and caved it in enough. … I just tried to hang on to it. Obviously it’s really unfortunate. But they knew we were here for sure, and I had a blast.”
After the event Earnhardt posted to Twitter: “The result will not show what a great job (Alex Bowman) and the (No. 88 Sprint Cup) gang did this weekend. Proud of them guys.”
▪ Team owner Rick Hendrick does not think the concussion symptoms that sidelined Earnhardt are career threatening. He hoped to have NASCAR’s most popular driver back in the car next week at the Brickyard. Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement and drive the 88 next week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if Earnhardt does not return. Hendrick Motorsports will likely make a decision on Earnhardt’s availability on Wednesday.
▪ Tony Stewart finished second Sunday and strengthened his spot inside the top 30 in the points standings. Stewart has a win this season – his last –and needs to secure a spot in the top 30 in points to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Cup championship. He entered the race in 30th in his final Cup season.
“Everyone wants this last year to be good,” said Stewart, who snapped an 84-race losing streak last month at Sonoma and was fifth last week at Kentucky Speedway. “Sonoma, I think, really helped relax everybody.”
The Associated Press contributed.