First off, good for Alex Bowman.
Anyone who knows Bowman, has spoken to him, interviewed him, gotten his autograph — anything really — knows how badly Bowman wanted to win. Of course that’s true for every NASCAR Cup Series driver, but for Bowman especially, given that he took over his No. 88 car for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
But now that metaphorical monkey’s off his back, after Bowman won in impressive fashion at Chicago this weekend.
So... who’s next?
Bowman was just one of a number of drivers (im)patiently waiting for his first win at NASCAR’s highest level. And while he was arguably the most high-profile winless driver, here are a few other due a trip to Victory Lane:
1. William Byron
After Bowman, there’s probably no driver better-positioned to win next than Byron. He’s currently 12th in the points standings, led laps at Chicago, and is part of the surging Hendrick Motorsports. It wouldn’t be a shock if he won by year’s end, but at the very least, Byron is a near-guarantee to win races — and lots of them — in the very near future.
2. Daniel Suarez
He’s just on the cusp of the playoffs, but he’s got plenty of potential still to be tapped. He might not have been the best fit at Joe Gibbs Racing, and while he’s been inconsistent his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, it’s been a clear step in the right direction. When Suarez flashes, he really flashes — now it’s a question of putting it all together week-in and week-out.
3. Bubba Wallace
This one’s probably a bit further off given the issues facing Richard Petty Motorsports, but Wallace’s talent is undeniable. His second-place finish in the 2018 Daytona 500 is one of the best stories in recent NASCAR history, and when Wallace does finally cross that hurdle, it’ll be one heck of a celebration.
4. Daniel Hemric
Hemric is, to some degree, carrying on the Kannapolis NASCAR legacy that Dale Earnhardt made famous. He’s done well so far his rookie season, including a Top 5 at Talladega, but Richard Childress Racing doesn’t have the equipment now to give him a real shot at winning. It’ll either take him moving to a new organization or RCR stepping up its game to get him past the checkered flag first.
5. Matt DiBenedetto
It’s been a mostly frustrating season for DiBenedetto at Leavine Family Racing, but a career-high fourth at Sonoma last week was a nice reward. He’ll make the most of what he’s working with, but like Hemric, Leavine probably isn’t at a place he can realistically win at.
This week’s NASCAR race at Daytona: What you need to know.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400.
Distance: 160 laps, or 400 miles.
Where: Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile asphalt tri-oval in Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Last year’s winner: Erik Jones.
Also this week: Circle K Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola, Xfinity Series, Daytona International Speedway, 7:30 P.M., Friday, NBCSN.
Worth mentioning: Beginning in 2020, the second Daytona race will be moved back from July 4th weekend to the last weekend of the regular season in August.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
Alex Bowman: The first Cup Series win is always important, but Bowman’s comes as a clear sign that Hendrick Motorsports is trending in the right direction.
Joey Logano: A third-place finish at Chicago is more than enough to keep him atop the point standings.
Clint Bowyer: Two DNF’s in the last three weeks isn’t the sort of form Bowyer needs to stick around long-term at Stewart-Haas.
Kyle Busch: A rare off weekend for Busch, who finished outside the Top 20 for just the second time this season.