Why Alex Bowman’s Pocono Win Wasn’t Just Good Luck
Alex Bowman was the first to deviate from the script on the choose lap with 20 to go and it was a significant factor in how he won the Pocono Organics CBD 325 on Saturday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.
Granted, it took a good push from Ryan Blaney behind him on the restart and some major misfortune from Kyle Larson on the final lap, but the end result may not have been entirely a matter of fortuity.
For almost 15 laps, a seemingly faster Larson sought a way under his Hendrick Motorsports teammate but was denied by a defensive clinic and a tall spoiler — the signature feature of the high downforce, low horsepower rules package.
“If you don’t have a car in front of you, your car makes way more downforce than if you have a car right in front of you,” Bowman explained after the race. “I tried to take as much air away from him as I possibly could.
“A lot of mirror driving to see where he’s running, trying to run similar lines as him to take the air away, keep him behind us.”
The dynamic was best illustrated by No. 48 spotter Kevin Hamlin in the closing laps.
“You don’t have to beat him; he has to beat you.”
As long as Bowman kept the bottom lane covered, Larson wasn’t going to drive around him over the top. As a result, Larson dug deep to find clean air several times, cut the apron and finally capitalized on a bobble in Turn 1 coming to three laps to go.
But had the damage been done?
“Alex drove it a little tight off (Turn) 1. Keep your front (tires) on it. A lot of time left to go. Eight laps.”
That was the message from crew chief Cliff Daniels to Larson four laps before they completed what they believed to be the winning pass.
Then, driving away and just one corner from the checkered flag, the front tires were no longer kept on the No. 5. Larson suffered a left front failure and smacked the wall, delivering Bowman the strangest win of his career, and snapping a three-race winless streak by his teammate.
Bowman had just apologized to his team for not being able to close out when he was suddenly taking the checkered flag and that wasn’t even the most surreal part of Saturday with another race to go on Sunday.
“This is is the strangest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Bowman said. “I thought I was running second, which was still going to be a good day for us with how we struggled throughout the course of the day. Then he blows a tire, we win; can’t do a burnout because I have to race the car tomorrow. I typically stand on the roof of the car; can’t do that because I got to race the car tomorrow. I typically drink all the beers; can’t do all that because I got to race a car tomorrow.
“I have to be way more responsible than I really want to be right now. It’s definitely been a unique win. But, yeah, I’ve never been in a situation like that. I was literally keyed up, apologizing for burning the front tires off the thing.”
Instead, it was Larson who appeared to burn the front tires off. Daniels told Autoweek that it wasn’t entirely clear as his crew began the process of swapping over to a backup car for Sunday.
Larson, meanwhile, was just in a state of disbelief, and wasn’t entirely sure if was how he abused the tires over the final 15 laps.
“I don’t think there were any tire issues all day,” Larson said.
And it’s true: Tire wear was minimal throughout the race.
“I must have just ran something over, I guess,” Larson added. “I was having to work really hard to get by him. I was honestly happy to see him get to the lead because I had pulled away from him so much, that run up before the caution. But then he was really fast out front. Just fast enough I could never get to his inside. He was running low enough, I was a little bit choked down.”
But running that deep into a corner, and that low on the apron while dealing with aero push certainly does a number on the tires, even if it was ultimately a puncture that did Larson in.
“He was starting to get really tight through (Turn) 1,” Larson said. “I was able to kind of use that to my advantage, fake him low a little bit, mess his angle up, get him tighter off of one. Was finally able to get by him.”
But races aren’t run on paper, and they’re not over until they’re over, even if Larson was the Vegas odds favorite and the winner of four consecutive Cup races when counting the All-Star Race.
It’s also quite a turnaround for Bowman, who has been so stricken by misfortune throughout his career, that he frequently referred to himself as ‘Bad Luck Bowman.’
“It’s pretty interesting to be on the other side of it,” Bowman said. “I’ll take it. I’ve had my fair share of bad luck over the course of my career.”
But again, this wasn’t entirely a matter of fortune either.
The decision to choose the bottom, after Kyle Busch, Larson and Denny Hamlin each chose the preferred top line, paid dividends. Larson chose not to give himself a shot at Busch from the front row, and Bowman capitalized.
“I was really surprised he didn’t pick the front row,” Bowman said. “I was just surprised somebody didn’t, right? We were fourth. Somebody could have restarted second, and instead they restarted fourth and sixth. I was pretty surprised nobody took the bottom.
“But, Hell, I’ll take it.”
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