NASCAR Cup Series: Alex Bowman seeks big weekend in Nashville for sponsor Ally
LEBANON, Tenn. –Alex Bowman considers last year’s return to Nashville Superspeedway a bit of a bust.
The weekend opened very well: Hendrick Motorsports announced a two-year contract extension with Bowman that locked him in the No. 48 Chevrolet until 2023. The deal aligned Bowman with the commitment of sponsor Ally towards the program.
But Ally had also gone all-in when NASCAR returned to Music City as the title sponsor of the first Cup race in the Nashville area in 37 years. Ally was all over town as he hosted industry events at popular tourist stops, displayed stock cars on Lower Broadway and displayed his logos all over the Nashville Superspeedway.
Bowman felt compelled to perform but instead finished 14th as Hendrick’s teammate Kyle Larson won.
“I feel like we definitely underperformed in Nashville,” Bowman said. “It was a disappointment as it was the Ally 400 so we are all trying to improve our race car. Everything Ally does they all know about. I’m excited for all the weekend activity and I’m just trying to do our best to put on a good show.
He heads into Sunday’s race with one win this season – Bowman won a career-high four times last year – and ninth in the Cup standings. He is solidly locked in the playoffs.
The pressure still exists, however, in part because of Bowman’s long journey to earn one of the NASCAR Cup’s best drives. He drove bad cars for two years, signed a contract with Hendrick in 2016 as a reserve driver for 10 races while Dale Earnhardt Jr. was injured, then didn’t make a single start in 2017.
Hendrick put Bowman in Earnhardt’s car in 2018 when Earnhardt retired, and he remained in No. 88 for three seasons. But when seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said he was leaving NASCAR at the end of the 2020 season, Ally told Rick Hendrick he wanted Bowman in No. 48.
“I’m not going to lie to you, when Mr. Hendrick told me I was driving #48, I was super nervous,” Bowman said. “I didn’t know anyone at Ally yet. I just didn’t know how it was going to be. It’s been great.
And his season so far? Well, like all of Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman is still adapting to the Next Gen car. Hendrick earned his eighth win of the season in Nashville last year, and Bowman’s victory the following week in Pocono gave the organization six straight Cup victories.
This year, the Hendrick drivers have just five wins in the first 16 races as NASCAR returns for its second season at Nashville Superspeedway after its only 38-race weekend off the schedule.
“I don’t think we’re quite where we want to be. I think we’ve had a tough couple of weeks,” said Bowman, who said the NASCAR’s Cup debut in St. Louis last month “didn’t look good for any of the HMS cars and I think we have a little work. TO DO.
“I can’t wait to see how we come out after the week off and the little reset we had. Hopefully we’re really strong in Nashville. I think a lot can change after a weekend off, then we’ll see where we are.
NASCAR rookie Todd Gilliland used the only weekend off the Cup schedule to race. It paid off with a win as Gilliland made his dad’s driving debut and won the Truck Series race at Knoxville Speedway.
It was a huge boost for the 22-year-old rookie at Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland’s best result this season is 15th and he is 29th in the Cup standings.
“We kind of talked about how the Cup Series will knock you down quickly,” Gilliland said. “Winning is huge. It’s a bit like a different mindset.
After feeling he was making steady progress in his first Cup races, Gilliland has now learned what a rollercoaster a NASCAR season can be for a rookie.
“At the start of the season it seemed like we were slowly improving a bit – a few places each week,” he said. “You could really feel the progress and then once that stopped it’s really hard to look for a small win. But I think recently we are unloading faster with more speed. For a while there, we were really a long way from unloading.
“Even though we haven’t really moved up a ton of places, we have gained quite a bit of time from where we were at the start of the year.”
Defending winner Kyle Larson is the 9-2 favorite, according to FanDuel. … NBC resumes its portion of the NASCAR schedule this weekend in Nashville, with nearly 15 hours of coverage scheduled on NBC, Peacock and USA Network. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte will be the analysts for the Cup race on Sunday and the Xfinity Series race on Saturday.
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