The last time Alex Bowman was at Phoenix Raceway, it looked like he had a career breakthrough. The Tucson native led 194 laps after starting from the pole and nearly won a Cup race over Chase drivers battling for a final four spot.
So surely, some team would come along in the offseason and snatch him up after seeing how well Bowman ran in the No. 88 car during Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s absence.
But there Bowman sat on Wednesday, wedged in the corner of a hauler in between making laps around Phoenix for Chevrolet’s data-gathering wheel force car.
Bowman’s plan for this season? Well…
“You’re looking at it,” he said with a chuckle.
Aside from running the upcoming Clash (formerly the Sprint Unlimited) in the No. 88 car, Bowman has no races on his calendar. That’s surprising for a driver who was perhaps the top available young talent in the offseason, but there’s at least a partial explanation.
Bowman said he was offered some full-time rides, but he turned them down. If it’s not a car capable of winning, he’s not interested.
“I’ve been in so many different situations the last couple years, and I’m not going to do it if I can’t win or have a shot,” he said. “I had so much more fun running for Hendrick Motorsports and being part of a winning organization. I thought long and hard about a few different opportunities, and it just made more sense for me to stay part of HMS.
“Whatever my role is here, I’m happy to be part of it. I still get to be part of, in my eyes, the best organization in NASCAR.”
After two seasons at BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing — during which Bowman had just four top-20 finishes — the 23-year-old was ready to walk away from racing.
He describes himself as “miserable” back then. Bowman felt pressure to improve his performance, “but the reality is you can only do so much.” He concluded that wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
So when the Hendrick opportunity came along, Bowman savored it. He had three top-10 finishes in 10 races and ran better than his results showed.
After that, he decided he couldn’t go back to just trying to make the best of a backmarker car.
“I can get in a 35th-place car and run 30th with it on a good day, but nobody notices that stuff,” he said. “I feel like I proved all I can (in the 88), and if the right opportunity comes, great. If it doesn’t, I’m happy where I’m at and it’s been fun to be part of this organization.”
Bowman will continue to drive the Chevy simulator for Hendrick and might do more tests in the wheel force car. He also expects to be at every race this season, which he said was “going to be weird.”
Still, it’s worth wondering what would have happened if Bowman had gone to victory lane in Phoenix. Bowman isn’t sure, but he knows the near-miss still bugs him.
“I’ve thought about it every day since then,” he said. “It’s bothered the hell out of me. I don’t know the opportunity to run like that in a Cup race ever again, so it definitely bothers me a lot. It’s something I’ll have to get over it at some point, I guess.”