Alex Bowman was so happy that during his victory celebration on Sunday, he found himself and his car stuck in the infield of Chicagoland Speedway, which was still soggy from the storm that delayed the race finish by nearly three hours.
“I make really, really poor life choices,” Bowman said about the moment. “I started doing burnout, doing some donuts, and there’s a lot of smoke right away... I couldn’t see a dang thing, and I realized I was in the grass once I got into it...
“But hey, I mean I’ll take it, being the first guy to win a cup race and get their car stuck in the grass afterwards.”
Bowman climbed out of his car window and stood on the roof, pumping his fist in the air as a wave of emotions hit him.
“I was kind of speechless,” Bowman said. “I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve been so used to being disappointed after cup races for a long time that I didn’t really know what to say or how to celebrate or what to do.”
After finishing runner-up for three consecutive races earlier this season, Bowman put an end to fans’ doubt about his driving ability and whether he belonged with top tier Hendrick Motorsports with his first Monster Energy career win. As he dueled Kyle Larson for the win, the two rode door-to-door at different moments for the final eight laps, exchanging the lead twice before Bowman pulled ahead with one thing in mind.
“I didn’t want to finish second again was the biggest thing,” Bowman said. “I felt like I gave Kansas away, and that was the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I don’t want to give one of these away again.”’
The next 48 hours were just as crazy.
Bowman flew back to Charlotte that same night and celebrated with his friends and team. They stayed up and saw the sunrise, something he said he hasn’t done in a long time. Later Monday, the Tucson, Ariz., native tweeted about how he led 88 laps, reached 88,000 Twitter followers that morning and joked about wondering if he drank 88 beers to celebrate.
“I didn’t drink as much as you would have thought that I would have,” Bowman said. “I was thinking back, I probably had two or three drinks, that’s it. But the lack of sleep was rough. It was really rough, and plus, you get out of the race car and you’re already dehydrated and all that, so yeah, I’m just really tired.”
“A couple of people decided to chug maple syrup,” Bowman said. “There was a couple hundred dollars on the line so it wasn’t just like, ‘Hey, I’m going to chug maple syrup.’ It was, ‘Hey, I want to make some money here.’”
As the Chicagoland win sank in, Bowman said he reflected on the impact the victory would have on his career. Throughout his journey, he said, there have been doubts from fans and media.
“You’re not supposed to read all the media articles and look at everybody’s mentions on Twitter, and you’re not supposed to read the bad stuff all the time and all that,” Bowman said. “But sometimes you see it and you’re not supposed to let it bother you, and unfortunately for me, I don’t do a good job of that. I still let that stuff bother me a lot.”
Bowman entered the NASCAR cup series scene as a substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 for 10 races. When Earnhardt retired after the 2017 season, Bowman stepped into the No. 88 car full time. But the move to replace a NASCAR legend invited criticism and doubt from fans and media. Bowman said his teammates, especially Jimmie Johnson and veterans Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt, worked to help make the car feel like home.
Still, the comparisons with Earnhardt Jr. continue.
“Every time I’m in the media center, I get asked by somebody, ‘What it’s like to replace Dale Jr?’ And I feel like I’m probably always going to get that question no matter how many years it’s been,” Bowman said.
However, Bowman said Sunday’s win makes the No. 88 feel more like his.
“I’m sure people will keep talking. But for me, it’s one of those things where I can I can finally say that they can say whatever they want,” Bowman said.
“I’ve got a trophy from a cup race at home.”