AVONDALE, Ariz. — The 2016 Can-Am 500 at Arizona’s ISM Raceway is an event that still eats at Alex Bowman’s memory, and unfortunately, it does so for all the wrong reasons.
That afternoon, as a substitute for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. and in front of his home fans, Bowman led 194 of 324 laps from the pole but could not close out what appeared to be a surefire victory. Late-race contact with Matt Kenseth on an overtime restart bumped Bowman from winning contention and relegated him to a sixth-place result in the final rundown.
It was a day where the Tucson native did everything he could to stun the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field, almost pulling off the unthinkable.
Now, 16 months later and returning to the one-mile desert oval as the full-time driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet that he drove in that star-crossed event, Bowman is hoping to put the sour taste of the near-miss to bed and close the book on his first Cup Series win in his native state.
“It’s always fun to come home,” Bowman said Friday ahead of the Ticket Guardian 500. “I don’t really get to spend a lot of time out here, but it’s definitely an enjoyable trip. I really enjoy this race track too. I’ve been pretty successful here; I just wish we could close races a little better here. We have run really well here in the Xfinity Series and in the Cup Series. I’ve just never been able to close one off. Hopefully, that all changes this weekend.”
“You can’t let (missing out on a win) get to you. We just have to look forward and I think if we do what we know we can do, we’ll be fast here.”
Bowman enters ISM Raceway as the highest of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers in points, sitting 17th in the standings through the first three races of the year after an opening stretch where the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1s have struggled against their counterparts from Ford and Toyota.
However, the soon-to-be 25-year-old is not worried about his chances at home, given the strong notebook that he and crew chief Greg Ives come into the weekend with.
“We definitely have a notebook of what I liked here (before), and it’s a really good one at that,” said Bowman. “We were really fast here before. I think it’s a positive. We’ve got some changes. The race car has changed; of course we have the new car in the Camaro ZL1. A lot has changed, but at the same time at least we have something to kind of look back on and look at what changes I liked and didn’t like throughout practice and where our car was strong and where we needed work.”
“I think it’s always good to have that notebook to lean on, and especially here, with as good of a notebook as we’ve had.”
Bowman recognizes that all four of the Hendrick teams aren’t where they’re traditionally used to being at this juncture of the season, but is confident that the organization will make a rebound sooner, rather than later.
“I think we unloaded at Atlanta and quickly realized that we have a lot of work to do, but we’ve got the best guys in the business back at the shop working hard,” said Bowman of the team. “We made progress last week (in Las Vegas). We were definitely better last week. We didn’t get the finish that we would have hoped for, but we are making progress.”
“To start the year, yes, we are behind where we expected to be … but like I said before, there is such a depth of really smart people at Hendrick Motorsports that I’m confident we will be contending for race wins soon.”