FONTANA, Calif — Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet unloaded off the truck Friday at the Auto Club Speedway race ready. Bowman, was quickest in both practice sessions on single lap speed to go along with being quickest in five lap and 10 lap averages too.
Everyone tabbed the Hendrick Motorsports driver as the favorite.
Bowman, backed up those expectations with a dominating win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana. For the second straight week, his Chevrolet was among the best cars in the end to win. Last weekend in Las Vegas, if not for a late race caution, Bowman was likely going to pass Ryan Blaney for the victory in the Pennzoil 400. At the very least, he was going to finish second.
But, it’s not just Bowman that’s running well lately. It’s all three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates too. It’s really, all of the Chevy camp. That’s saying a lot.
It took 10 races before a Chevy driver reached victory lane in 2019. We’re only three weeks in now and they’ve already won.
“This is a place we’ve struggled at for the last two years, so for (crew chief Greg Ives) to be able to unload that close, really the last two weeks in a row, makes my job much easier,” Bowman said following his second career Cup Series win on Sunday. “We can really fine tune the car throughout practice instead of having to make huge changes. It’s really been our probably best couple practices the last two years that I’ve been driving for (Hendrick Motorsports), and I just attribute that to the hard work in the shop and great work over the offseason.”
He and others can thank Chevy for spending a lot of money this past offseason updating their Camaro. It was money that some questioned on how worth it that it was. A new car is coming out in 2021, so why update a car that’s going away in nine months?
Well, Chevy isn’t okay with being down. They’ve been embarrassed the last three years. Since Jimmie Johnson won the 2016 championship, a Chevy driver hasn’t been in the Championship 4 in the Cup Series over the last three years. They were going to go for broke in 2020 to end that drought.
So far, it’s working.
“I think the new body has helped us a lot, the new Camaro,” Bowman continued. “Any change we make, we make for a reason, and Chevy did a good job with that car.”
Third place finisher Kurt Busch agrees.
“I feel like the Chevys had a really good balance when it came to speed and long run speed,” Busch said following his fifth top six finish in his last eight Fontana tries. “It looked like the Toyotas were just bogged down early in a run when they were wide-open. That’s why they qualified poorly.”
Fourth place finisher Chase Elliott feels refreshed for how well it’s going thus far.
“I feel like we were better than we’ve been, which is good,” Elliott said. “Not good enough to win, obviously, but better than we’ve been. So, we’ll take it and move on.”
For Bowman and Elliott, Sunday’s finishes were their first career top five results on the 2-mile oval. Bowman, had never even finished in the top 20 in four prior starts.
That as well as how well Jimmie Johnson has been running early this season is encouraging for the seven-time champion. He feels like this is all heading in a promising direction.
“This team is going in the right direction,” Johnson said. “I know in my heart what I am capable of and what this team is capable of. It’s just taken a little bit to get the right people in the right places, and rebuild and get this Ally Chevy exactly where it needs to be.
Chevy not only won in Fontana with Bowman but they put four cars in the top seven overall. Last year, they had just two cars in the top 10 for the entire race as they finished sixth and 10th.
In Vegas last week, Chevy had six cars finish in the top 10 including four in the top six (all from different organizations). In 2019, Chevy only had two cars in the top 10 too.
Right now, it’s clear that Chevy is far ahead of pace in 2020 from where they were at this time in 2019.