The NASCAR Playoffs roll into Charlotte on Sunday for a trip around the Roval, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course, as they whittle the playoff field from 12 to 8 before the next trio of races in Kansas, Texas, and Martinsville.
For Alex Bowman, who is starting fifth on Sunday, he needs a solid finish to hold onto his position in seventh and advance to the next round of playoff races so he can keep his championship hopes alive. Bowman’s had one win and 11 top 10s thus far in a strange 2020 season, but is in position to finish off his tenure in the 88 with a strong playoff finish before taking over another legendary Hendrick car next season, when he moves to the 48 to take the place of the retiring Jimmie Johnson.
On Sunday, a couple hours before the green flag drops at the Roval, Bowman talked with Uproxx Sports about the stress of playoff racing — particularly on a rainy day in Charlotte — and the excitement of moving his team to the 48 car and a new sponsor in Ally.
First off, how are you feeling heading into today’s race?
[The Roval] is a tough racetrack, obviously. It’s definitely a stress and anxiety filled weekend. I don’t think anyone knows what to expect with the weather and how much it’s rained and how wet it’s going to be. So trying to learn as we go and have a good solid day, and we should be OK.
How interesting is it having the Roval as one of the playoff races, being a place y’all have run in the series, one time before, right?
Yeah so we’ve run here twice, both times have been a playoff cutoff race so it’s always been that way, but it’s definitely — to come here without any practice and then to add rain to the situation, it’s definitely interesting. It’s a very interesting racetrack in that it’s so narrow and there’s so little room for error. You make one little mistake and you can ruin your day and take yourself completely out of it. So, it’s tough and to not have any experience in the rain and be trying to learn how a race car reacts in the rain on a track that you basically can’t mess up at is going to be really tough.
This has obviously been a season like no other where, as you mention, you come into races without any track time or time in the shop. I’ve talked to guys, especially early on, about how strange it was not having the time in the garage and around your guys. What have you learned from this season and can take forward from what has been such a unique situation?
Yeah it’s definitely been quite a bit different than what we’re used to, we just kind of show up and race. We’re used to three and four hours of practice a weekend and long drawn out weekends with all kinds of stuff going on, that it’s kind of been a little bit refreshing to just show up and race and we’ve shown the on-track product isn’t really effected. So, it’s been cool to just have to be on your game right off the truck, and we’ve kind of learned how our team can best prepare for this situation and how our team needs to work together to do the best we can in this situation. It’s been good for us. I feel like it’s effected some guys differently than others. I feel like most of the time we were typically racing what we were unloading anyways even with a couple hours of practice, that it hasn’t effected us too much, and it’s been good.
And it’s got to be part of the advantage to being at a team like Hendrick that not only has the resources but also you have three teammates you can bounce information off of and in the moment even be in conversation. How much does that play a role in being at a place like Hendrick at allowing some of that comfort even in the chaos?
Absolutely, I think that’s a big part of the success of teams like Hendrick and being at HMS. It’s been really good. I feel like we have a lot of experience on our side in Jimmie and Chase, and William and I. We all bring a different perspective and something different to the table, so being able to lean on each other has been a big help, but there’s such a depth of knowledge at HMS between everybody that works there. The crew chiefs do a really good job, but everybody through the organization is so sharp that it really developed ways to best prepare in these situations and done a really good job of it. So, being able to lean on my teammates and everybody at HMS has been really good.
Next year you’re gonna be moving from the 88 to the 48 and this is something you’ve done before, but having raced with Jimmie, what does it mean to be able to take over the legacy of that number that he made so iconic?
Yeah, it’s really cool, and to have Mr. H and Jimmie and Ally and everybody have faith in me to take over that car is really special. I’m excited to do that and to work with Ally and to, honestly, carry my team over to the 48 is really special. It’s definitely special for my crew chief Greg [Ives], and I think all of the guys are really excited to work on that car. It’s essentially a partner change and a number change, but I’m looking forward to it and hopefully we can add to the great success that number’s already had.
You mention Greg [Ives], who was on that car previously. Have you talked with him about what it means to go back to a car he had so much success with as an engineer?
Yeah, I think he’s definitely pumped up about it, and it’s a special number for him. It meant a lot for his career and he was obviously part of what was arguably the most successful run in our sports history and that we’ll ever see. So to be able to have him go from that to crew chiefing that car is really cool for him.
And for you, you’re in a playoff chase this year. What are the things you’ve been able to learn from Jimmie in your time at Hendrick and the things he’s told you about racing for championships and competing in the playoff format?
I think the biggest takeaway from Jimmie is how he approaches race weekends and his work ethic, as well as how he treats people and handles every situation with — he’s just a pro at absolutely everything. Even if it’s a rough situation or a bad day he’s still really positive about everything. He’s such a humble guy and it’s been cool to get to learn from him and reach out to him for advice. He’s been a great teammate and friend, and it’s definitely special to take over that car from him with everything he’s done for my career.