Kevin Harvick won the pole Thursday for Saturday’s Bank of America 500, another step in his drive for a NASCAR championship.
But Alex Bowman, the young driver who is starting alongside Harvick on the front row, is racing Saturday and the rest of the season for something else: His career.
Bowman, who missed out on the pole by .004 seconds, has spent much of the second half of the Cup season splitting time with the retired Jeff Gordon as a fill-in driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out for the season with a concussion.
Bowman, 23, a journeyman with little Cup experience who was working in the Hendrick Motorsports simulation department earlier this year, is treating his time as a substitute as a job interview.
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But with vacancies in Cup garages scarce, he’s realistic about his chances about landing a full-time ride anytime soon.
“I don’t know what my future holds,” said Bowman. “There aren’t really any rides open for next year. These next few races may be the last of my Cup career. So I’m having the most fun I can possibly have.”
Bowman has an average finish of 20th in his four races this season for Earnhardt, finishing as high as 10th at Chicagoland in September.
“He’s done a good job of finishing races, and that should be the goal for him,” said Harvick, who won the pole with a final-round lap of 196.029 mph. “He’s had speed wherever he’s gone. He’s done a good job.”
Rookie Chase Elliott, another Hendrick driver, starts third. At 20, Elliott is the youngest of the organization’s four Cup drivers.
That’s why Bowman is also doubtful about his immediate chances for advancement at Hendrick, where Earnhardt’s future is uncertain, Jimmie Johnson recently turned 41 and Kasey Kahne has struggled for much of the season.
That’s because Hendrick recently signed Truck series star William Byron as the presumed next driver in its Cup lineup.
“(Byron) is a great young driver, and I think he’s really their guy and is in line for that,” said Bowman. “But you never know what will happen in the next few years. You don’t know what will open up.”