CONCORD, N.C. — After 10 hours of rain and in a race that finally ran under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Alex Bowman used fresh tires and a daring late-race pass to storm to his first-career NASCAR victory in the Drive for the Cure 300.
Bowman pitted for the final time on lap 162 of 200, then stormed from 10th to the lead in less than three laps following the final restart with 34 to go, passing William Byron and never looking back from there.
Further back in the field, Ryan Reed kept Brendan Gaughan in his sights all night long and edged Gaughan by one point for the final playoff berth in the Round of 8.
All things considered, Saturday night’s win was a stunning flourish for Bowman in his first start for Chip Ganassi Racing, only being announced last Friday as the driver taking the reins of the No. 42 Chevrolet from Kyle Larson.
“To get my first win here, in my second home at Charlotte, means so much,” said Bowman in victory lane. “It’s been a long time since I’ve raced. I was terrible on pit stops; I didn’t do a good job on pit road, but I felt like my restarts were really good. It feels amazing to finally get us one.”
“I went from driving for really small, low-budget teams and learning what I could and just trying as hard as I can, to now be driving for Hendrick Motorsports next year. It’s a testament to everyone who’s ever believed in me, and next year is going to be so much fun. … It’s my grandma’s birthday Sunday, too, so that’s really big. … I’m just excited, we’re going to go celebrate this one pretty big.”
Saturday night’s upset also well-validated the decision by Hendrick Motorsports to elect Bowman as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s successor in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for next season.
But the biggest things on Bowman’s mind in the final laps were a possible yellow and an angel riding onboard.
“I kept thinking the caution was going to come out, to be dead honest,” Bowman admitted. “I just can’t thank Mr. Hendrick and Chip Ganassi for letting me drive this car enough, though … it means so much. We had Vannoy Construction on the quarter-panels tonight … and Shane Vannoy passed away Friday night, so (this win is) definitely in memory of him.”
Bowman was money on restarts all night long, charging to third when the final stage kicked off on lap 97 and challenging for the runner-up position on the next restart at lap 108, sparked after a loose tire rolled onto pit road.
But it was a caution with 60 laps to go, when the black flag penalty board fell off the flagstand onto the frontstretch, that began to set up Bowman’s ultimate surge to the lead.
He went three-wide when the green-flag returned with 53 to go, advancing from sixth to fourth, and then ducked to pit road for his final set of fresh Goodyear tires when Joey Gase’s ailing machine dropped fluid onto the track.
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