Alex Bowman led exactly 11 laps in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Richmond Raceway. They were the most important ones though too. Bowman, had help via a late race caution when Kevin Harvick got into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier on Lap 382 of 400 to bring out the final caution. The drivers all came down pit road and there Bowman was getting an adjustment to his No. 48 Chevrolet that he didn’t even know was occurring.
His crew chief Greg Ives learned of this move when he was on top of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s pit box a few years ago.
Bowman, would restart third, one row behind Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. At that point of the race, Hamlin had led over half of the race and was restarting in the top spot. He took the lead on pit road during that yellow flag pit sequence when he got by Logano on pit lane.
See, Hamlin who had swept both stages prior, was on the bumper of Logano in the closing laps for the lead and what he thought would be the race win. Then, Harvick crashes and changes everything all over again.
Logano, led 49 laps, came out of the pits second and hoping it would be a battle between he and Hamlin for the win. Prior to the final restart, Logano and Hamlin had combined to lead 179 of the previous 182 laps. Instead, it was Bowman who came out of no where and snookered them both.
“I thought were were going to see a battle between the front row, especially the way we launched on the final restart there,” said Logano. “I could barely hang on to the 11’s quarter down into 1. I thought maybe I could roll the top here and get there, the front just want’ woken up yet. It jus wasn’t turning for about three laps and obviously the 48 was in a different league for about five laps. Pretty obvious adjustments they made to make that happen. He was decent all day, but he wasn’t the fastest car. They found a way to win. Congratulations to them. They deserve it but frustrating at the same time for probably two of the best cars getting beat by that at the end. You get frustrated being so close, but at the same time, at least you’re close so you kind of go back and forth with that in your mind.”
Hamlin, agreed with the frustrations.
“It’s frustrating for sure,” he said. “But honestly, I’d rather be where I am than Alex Bowman. I don’t care that he’s got a win. We’re smashing everyone. I’d still rather be where I’m at.”
Hamlin has yet to win in 2021 but has a top five in literally every race he’s run but one thus far. He’s led over half the laps in two straight races now and looks like a clear championship front runner. It’s just the sense that he’s missing out on those crucial playoff points by not winning too. He’s got five of them now, all via stage wins, but think of how many more he’d have if he had turned some of those top fives into wins.
That’s where the frustration is where it’s at for him.
Hamlin says though that there’s nothing that they can do about it. There’s nothing glaring that he could do any different. It’s just wild circumstances that are keeping him shut out of victory lane.
Ives’ call for an adjustment paid off for them and put Hamlin behind.
“We just didn’t take off very good there,” Hamlin said of the final restart. “Definitely was the worse that our car took off after a restart. The 48, I’m guessing, his tires pumped up and he was able to take off there, get the lead and then build a lead big enough I didn’t have enough time to get back to him.”
Logano agreed with that too.
“I think that’s probably what it kind of came down to,” Logano said on Sunday. “They (Bowman) made great adjustments to make their car fire off better and what we saw was him being lights out for five, six laps. Then, it equaled out. Then last maybe four, five laps, Denny and I were able to catch him a little bit back.
“I’m just assuming he pumped up his pressure. I’m not sure how much. But seemed like the obvoius play to me. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the strategy of the play, right? IF he didn’t get to the lead in the first two or three laps, he was done, right? He was going to probably finish fifth or sixth. That’s the gamble they took. He took advantage of it, got by everybody pretty quick and kind of made us all look kind of goofy there for a minute.”
Bowman said that even he was surprised by the car coming around on that final restart.
“It did not go the way I thought it was going to go,” said Bowman. “We were pretty awful on short runs all day. To be honest with you, when the caution came out, I was like ‘man we’re going to struggle to get out of here with a top five.’ When we drove away, I was like, “oh my gosh, what is happening?’
“I don’t have a clue what Ives did. I didn’t see a wedge wrench go in it, so I would say air pressure stuff which is typically our go to for short run vs. long run stuff. I sure woke it up, that’s for sure.”
Bowman, Truex Prove You Could Pass
Alex Bowman had an uncontrolled tire penalty at the end of the second stage. He came back to win. Martin Truex Jr. also had a penalty. He came back for a top five. Those two proved on a day where passing was once again difficult, that it’s still entirely possible.
Hamlin, Logano and Truex Jr. combined to lead 363 of the 400 laps, so it was just passing for the lead that proved difficult.
750 Horsepower Drivers Strong Again
It shouldn’t come to a shock that the fastest drivers on 750 tracks were strong again. Hamlin has three third place finishes and a runner-up on them in 2021. Logano has three top three finishes in four starts and sixth in the other. Truex Jr. has three straight top fives including two wins.
These are your top drivers on 750 tracks thus far.
3 HMS Drivers With Wins Already
We’re nine races into the 2021 season and HMS has already put three drivers in victory lane. But, who would have thought that the only HMS driver not to have won is defending Cup champion Chase Elliott? Alex Bowman, William Byron and Kyle Larson have all won and stamped their names into the playoffs already. Is Elliott soon to follow?
He’s got some good tracks coming up. He’s won the spring race at Talladega in the past. He was also runner-up in the season opening Daytona 500. Then it’s to Kansas to where Elliott has four top six results in his last seven tries. After that it’s to Darlington to where he should have won 2 of the 3 races on the Lady in Black last season. Then he has Dover (3 top 5’s in his last 5 starts) a road course and the Coca-Cola 600, a race that he should have won last year in which he followed it up with a win on the Charlotte oval a few days later. To kick off June? Another road course.
Elliott should win at some point during that stretch.
Stage Sweeps Don’t = Wins
Denny Hamlin swept both stages on Sunday but finished second. Ryan Blaney did the same thing 7 days prior at Martinsville and came home 11th. Kyle Larson did the same two weeks before that but like Hamlin, finished second. That’s 3 times in 2021 that this has happened and all came in the last 4 weeks. Does this trend continue to happen?
With Bowman’s win, we now have 8 different winners in 9 races. What’s odd is, four drivers that combined to win 25 of the 36 races a year ago, including taking 3 of the 4 Championship 4 positions have yet to win. They’re 0-for-9 this year.
Does that change soon? I’d honestly say so.
Talladega is a crap shoot this weekend, a place where anyone can win, but afterwards you get Kansas, Darlington, Dover, COTA and Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 for the five races in May.
I’d be shocked if those four drivers are still shut out as we reach Memorial Day. In fact, I can make a strong case to where we could see all four win over the next six weeks which would bring us to 12 winners in 15 races.
Kansas is where Hamlin won the first of two races on the 1.5-mile track in 2020. Keselowski has a pair of top fives in as many tries including three in his last four tries there. Harvick has a pair of top fives as well there and Elliott with four top six results in his last five Kansas starts.
Then it’s to Darlington to where Hamlin and Harvick split wins at last year with Harvick winning two of the three races and Hamlin the other. Elliott should have actually won the night race in May as well as the Southern 500 too. Keselowski, has three top fives in his last five Darlington starts.
Then you go to Dover to where Hamlin and Harvick each won the two races on the Monster Mile last year as well. Elliott has three top fives in his last five on the concrete mile himself.
Then, we go to COTA, another wildcard which should be a good one for Elliott, followed by the Coke 600 at Charlotte to close the month of May. Keselowski and Elliott won the two oval races there last year.
I didn’t even mention Kyle Busch who could easily win at either of these tracks…