Alex Bowman Victor in Rain-Delayed Charlotte Xfinity Race
(CONCORD, NC – OCT 7, 2017 – RIS) Alex Bowman earned his career first NASCAR national series victory in the Drive for the Cure 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race. Starting the race just after 8:30 at night, instead of the scheduled 3:00 in the afternoon, thanks to rain that fell through most of the day but finally stopped in time for the track to be dried. Second place went to Sam Hornish Jr and Ryan Blaney took third place, followed by Austin Dillon and Brennan Poole to complete the top five. Bowman has been tapped to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr in the No. 88 Hendrick Chevy, with his new livery unveiled just a few days ago.
The cutoff race in the XFINITY Series Playoffs’ Round of 12 saw William Byron, Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Brennan Poole, Ryan Reed and Matt Tifft advance to the Round of 8.
A late caution for fluids on the track allowed William Byron to cycle into the lead with 35 laps to run, after Daniel Suarez' crew had an air wrench hose snag on a brake rotor, melting part of the hose and forcing the front tire changer to change all the tires on that stop. Suarez had led 111 of the laps so far. The previous caution was potentially a game changer, but fortunately, none of the cars hit the number sign board that fell off of the starter's stand and landed on the front straight.
At the restart, Elliott Sadler jumped into the lead briefly before Byron pulled ahead as Austin Dillon tried to take advantage of the four new tires. Just three laps later, Alex Bowman moved around Byron and into the lead in his first race start in over a year. Michael Annett and Harrison Rhodes made light contact, spinning Annett in the fourth turn, so close to the pit entrance that the caution never flew.
WINNER ALEX BOWMAN (No. 42 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro): "I kept thinking those last few laps that the caution would come out. To get my first win here at my second home at Charlotte means so much. 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 our restarts were pretty good. It feels amazing to finally get us one. It’s a dream come true. I have to give thanks to everybody who has made this possible. To come here and be as competitive as we were, I was really pleased. We were too free if I let the car roll too long. And we were too tight if I was too strong punching the throttle. We just kept freeing it up there at the end. The car was really secure around other race cars, which was great on that last restart. With the horsepower we had, we were able to get a gap there before it got too tight."
COLE CUSTER – No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang – "I was happy with it. It was a really good night for us. We got our car better. We didn't have the track position that we wanted, so I think we were more of a third or fourth-place car, but our Haas Automation Mustang was really solid tonight. I was happy with the improvements we made through the weekend, so I'm looking forward to the next round." WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING IN THE ROUND OF 8? "It's gonna be a dogfight, that's for sure. Everybody in this next round has a lot of speed. I think if we can win a race it's gonna be huge. It's gonna be tough, but we just have to really be on our game and have fast cars."
RYAN BLANEY – No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – "I thought we had a pretty decent car. We started off great. I thought we lacked a little bit of speed and I was real loose. We did a pretty good job of getting it tighter to where it might be a little bit better. We got the lead on pit road, which is good. They did a great job on pit road all night with really fast stops and that helped out a bunch. On that last restart we got running there and some cars stayed out. They gambled a little bit and we got stuck behind the 5 a little bit. The 42 did a good job. He got a big run on the top and drove away from us. He was better than us that last run anyway. We lost a little bit of speed there. It stinks we couldn't have won that race, but I thought we learned a little bit and hopefully we can apply that tomorrow."
RYAN REED – No. 16 Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustang – WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WITH THE THREE-WIDE MOVE WHEN YOU SHOT THE GAP BETWEEN THE 62 AND 9? "That 9 car was really tough to pass. I had been working on him for a few laps and I knew that with the 62 and him racing, the 9 got loose. That was my best shot. I honestly thought I'd clear them both, but the 62 did a really great slide job down into three and he did a heck of a job driving that thing to keep in front of me. I thought that was my only shot right there. I ran a pretty conservative race, tried not to make too many radical moves and then there at the end I think in these Playoff races you have one or two moments where you have to lay it all out on the line and you have to go all-in so to speak. That was my moment to go all-in and it worked out. I'm glad." THAT WAS THE MOVE OF THE RACE. "Yeah, that's what it boils down to. You saw it last week with the 17 guys with Brian Pattie's really gutsy call. I think everyone agreed that was the move of the race and it only takes one or two defining moments in these deals anymore. It's crazy to see a whole season – 28 races or 26 races and everything boils down to this and a couple key moments to define your season. It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of stress."
SAM HORNISH JR. – No. 12 PPG Ford Mustang – PRESS CONFERENCE – "I think if it had been anybody else other than my teammate or Bowman winning I'd probably been pretty disappointed with tonight for as fast as we were, but the fact that we stuck with it. The car was great. We needed long runs and didn't have any early on in the race. Finally got the car adjusted right where we thought we needed to be and kind of overstepped it. On that last restart I kind of got stuck on the bottom and it also freed the car up a little bit right there too, knowing that we're gonna be back in traffic. It took us a little bit longer. The top lane rolled and the 2 and the 42 were able to make a lot of ground on us there early, and it was everything that Alex needed to be able to win and it was a bit of fighting for me to be able to get back second. By the time I had a slip-up underneath the 22 car. I'm really glad we didn't end up getting together. I figured I kind of slid around the corner long enough that I figured I wasn't gonna correct until he was past me again, and made the right-rear tire mad and it took us about five or six laps to get that calmed back down, go back after him and just not enough time there at the end."
SAM HORNISH CONTINUED -- WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THIS 12 TEAM HERE AT CHARLOTTE? "I kind of about that back in 2013 when I was running the 12 car all the time, how the 22 always seemed to be just a little bit quicker than us. They were running obviously for owners points, but the way that they were able to run the race with the different drivers put in the car, the points not being 100 percent on the line like they were for us, they were able to make a little bit bigger adjustments here and there. They were able to push things a little bit further as far as fuel mileage or how they ran their race. I think that Brian Wilson has obviously done a great job. I met with him on Thursday afternoon and he said, 'Do you need a sheet of the guys that are gonna be on the team?' And I said, 'Who have you got?' And he started going through them and I was like, 'I know all those guys pretty much,' so it was kind of nice. It was kind of like old home week, getting to work with a bunch of people that I had worked with, whether it be on the 12 or the 22 or the 77. I think that Penske Racing has quite a program going on and for the fact that it was as quick of notice and turnaround for me to get in this car, I was really happy with that. This is only the second mile-and-a-half that I've run since September of last year. There are a lot of differences in the cars and how those things work and a lot less downforce, a lot more off-throttle time and it took me a little bit yesterday of getting back to where I wanted to be at, but, man I love coming and running here at Charlotte. This is one of my favorite tracks. The last XFINITY race I got to run here back in '13 we took the lead from Kyle Busch with like 20 laps to go and he passed me back with about eight to go. I've always felt like that was one that got away and here we have another one, but, all in all, I'm really glad how they stepped up on the pit stops and those things that they had today."
DO YOU FEEL IT MAKES A STATEMENT THAT YOU CAN COME OUT HERE ON A PART-TIME BASIS AND STILL COMPETE AT A HIGH LEVEL? "I'm just always really happy to get past like lap two of the second stage because that bit us a couple times this year, people getting loose underneath us. Once we got past that today I felt really good about it. I try really hard to stay in shape even though I have a hard time doing that sometimes. There's not any substitute for being in these race cars all the time, and I pay attention to what's going on. I try to talk to people and understand what the trends are and put time in. But more so than anything I'm proud of the fact that I've got an opportunity and I can step up to it and that we can run fast almost everywhere that we get put in the race car. Really, I'm thankful most of all. While I'd like to be here full-time, I feel like God's blessed me very much to give me a great family and a bunch of good support people that when I'm not here, I've got a lot going on. It's like everybody always go, 'So what do you do with your time?' I'm like, 'If I told you, you wouldn't think it was that much, but I don't ever seem to have a free moment.' So while I miss being here, I really enjoy the times when I'm not at the race track as well, just enjoying watching my kids grow up and knowing there are a lot of people that don't get the opportunity to spend as much time as I do with them. So I look at that as a blessing and try to make the most if it when I do get the opportunity to get behind the wheel."
IF YOU DIDN'T SLIDE AROUND THE 22, COULD YOU HAVE CHALLENGED BOWMAN? "I think for sure because not only did that slow me down a bit, it took five or six laps to be able to get back and get the right-rear tire cooled back down enough to where I wasn't just about spinning out every corner. And then it still took me three or four laps beyond that to get back to Blaney and another couple to be able to pass him, so I feel like we would have had a good shot at it if I would have been able to clear him there, and even while I was running the race I had a great run on him coming off of four going down into one and almost immediately after I did it I was like, 'I should have waited one more corner to go for that.' So I know that I really believe I could have caught Bowman, but catching him and getting around him for the win is another thing, too."
SAM HORNISH CONTINUED – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT STAGE ONE AND THE MOVES YOU MADE? "We only got about 18 laps yesterday in the car and wasn't really sure what was gonna happen because most of even that had a lot of oil dry down on the first groove and then tried not to venture off of the first groove on either end because of how slick it was. I was kind of trying to figure out everything I did in that first section was really passing people on the bottom side and making it work down there, and then about five laps to go in that I started venturing up a little bit and found out there was good grip up there and wished I had moved up a little bit sooner, but just trying to do it the right way, be patient, not get ourselves in any trouble. I knew how good the car was yesterday and that we just needed to make sure we took care of it and got it to the end of the race."
DID YOU RELY ON YOUR SPOTTER ON WHEN TO TRY THE PJ1? "Before I forget to say it, if my restarts would have been better I think we would have won the race too. I was horrible tonight. I guess that's part of not doing it every week, but as far as the PJ1 goes, about halfway through the second stage I was behind Bowman and I was a lot faster than him through one and two on the bottom, so every time I'd get a run on him on the bottom, he'd move down the next lap so I'd do one lap behind, then he'd stay there and I'd go up to the top and get a run on him again, and then the next lap he'd be on the top. So he kept moving around everywhere I wanted to be he was driving in his mirror. Finally I'm like, 'Enough.' I tried it in three and four and it stuck and I got a good run on it and I told the guys over the radio, 'That will screw him up. He won't know which lane he wants to be in the next time going into three and four,' and sure enough he went up to try to block and I drove right around on the bottom. Three and four is just such a tighter corner. It seems like everything happens down there a lot quicker when it gets away from you, so I think that it was more of a psychological thing of anybody wanting to move up because they know that when you get down there with the speed you have entering into three and how abruptly the wall comes out at the exit of four, you get yourself in trouble real quick down there, so they wanted to see some other people doing it first. I felt like while we ran well in the PJ1, our car we could run almost the same lap time whether we ran up there or ran down around the bottom. Our car was that good where a lot of other people got tight and had to move up into that second lane. We could still get to the bottom."
RYAN REED PRESS CONFERENCE – WHAT ABOUT THE BATTLE WITH BRENDAN AND ADVANCING? "First of all, it's pretty awesome that it came down to that. For the sport and as someone who likes to see great racing and good things happening in the sport, I think that's about as great of a points battle as you could ask for, especially for the first elimination race. I can assume it's only gonna get better as the stakes get higher, so it's really cool, but then it's also cool that I thanked Brendan for racing racing me clean after the race. He had his moments where he could have got to me and used me up and he raced me clean and I tried to race him clean. I felt like it was just a great race. I thought there were moments where I was really confident we were done. I think maybe 60 to go. We ended up fighting a really loose race car late in that run and we were dropping like a rock and we got a gift with that caution for oil. We came in and put tires on it and the team made the right adjustments. It went from being a 25th-place car to being a 12th or as we were catching guys there maybe even a top-10 car. Huge gains, just battled through it, persevered. I think as a driver to see your race team dig deep like that it just motivates you and so them giving me that opportunity gave me that extra motivation to go out there and lay it all out on the line, make those kind of all-in moments like the three-wide pass with William and Brendan. Those are kind of the defining moments, I feel, whether or not you advance in this deal or not."
WHAT ABOUT THE THREE-WIDE MOVE? "I ran a somewhat conservative race all night and there were moments and chances I could have took earlier on in the race and I kind of hedged my bet. Right there you knew you had fast cars behind you. I knew the 33 was gonna be coming and I think that if I didn't get by the 9 right then, I almost cleared the 62 also, but he pulled a heck of a slide job in three and four and kept it in front of me. That was a great move and gave himself a shot, but I felt like if we got hung up by the 9 at all we weren't good enough to just go out and pass him. He probably could have hung on and been a big enough burden to where even if we did get by him maybe hold me up long enough to let the 33 get by me, but it was definitely that moment where I figured I have to take this chance, I have to see. It may not work out. We may all go down in three and wreck, but I felt like if I didn't I was gonna give it away."
FIVE TO GO BRANDON JONES GOT TO YOUR INSIDE. "That was the 10 best laps I could put together. We were still fighting a pretty loose race car, especially on exit and it was getting worse and getting worse. The guys asked me to find that little bit of extra and to find the next eight, nine laps or whatever we needed and just try to dig as deep as I could and find all I could. I think that's what you do in Playoffs. That's what the best Playoff teams do in any sport. No matter how much you're down or no matter how much you need, you just find a way. It's not an option. It's you've got give this to me, bud. I was really proud of that. I was proud of myself at times tonight. I was proud of the team all night. I was proud of the spotter. I was proud all the way around. I know we've got to bring faster race cars. I talked about that after the race. To have any opportunity to go to Homestead, we're gonna have to be better, but I think everyone is up to the challenge. We've got an off week to regroup and figure out how to be better at Kansas. I think Kansas can be a good track for us and we just have got to go make it happen. It's up to us. At least we have the opportunity though and I think that's what everybody at Roush Fenway asked of us going into this weekend was just go get through this weekend, give us an opportunity and let the chips fall where they may."
DO YOU FEEL THIS FORMAT FORCED YOU TO STEP UP AND TAKE SOME CHANCES? "I just think it's a night where you can let the frustrations get the best of you. We weren't that good. We struggled in practice. With all the rain and all the chaos it was a frustrating night, a long day, and it's just easy – not just myself but the entire team – it's easy for the crew chief to not have a clear head, maybe not make the best call, just all the way around and what this Playoff format does is it doesn't allow you to do that. It doesn't allow you to say, 'Man, we're having a tough night but we'll go get them in Kansas. We're running seventh in points. We've got an 80-point cushion.' There's no cushion. There's none of that. It's all reset, so it's do-or-die moments that force you into situations you may not have found yourself in. Maybe we would have done the same thing. Maybe it wasn't a Playoff race, it was just a normal race, we fought back to 24th, we made changes and we get back up to 12th, but I know that as a driver and as someone that I think you watch throughout all sports there are moments that you watch that you see in post-season that you do not see in the regular season and I just think that this is one of those moments that kind of defines why the post season is so special."
DANIEL SUÁREZ, No. 18 Juniper Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing, Finishing Position: 8th: What happened in the race to take away your chances at victory? "I was in position to win the race and we didn't so we have to go back to the shop and analyze exactly how things went wrong and fix that moving forward."
MATT TIFFT, No. 19 MotoRad Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing, Finishing Position: 9th: What does it mean to make it to the 'Round of 8' for the Playoffs? "It's definitely good to be there and we've had a good first round. We fought back from a lot of stuff, especially at Dover and today. We've been fighting back from a lot of difficult situations – we were able to put our MotoRad Camry back in the top-10 today and we had so much stuff going on today. Really excited about our chances in the second round and we're riding the right wave right now and I feel like we're getting things clicking between the team and I right now so it's a good time for us right now and it was a good fight today for sure."
Do you feel you need to have perfect races to make it to Homestead? "You can't have any mistakes if you're going to make it to Homestead. Dover, we ran over something on the track and you can't fix those things. It's hard to say, obviously every week we're going to try to go with no mistakes and try to be patient and be cool about it. We have our work cut out for us for sure."
How focused are you now that you've made it to the 'Round of 8?' "It's a great feeling to be in the next round. We have a lot of work to do the next three races for sure. Obviously it's a bit of a strange schedule with time off and then time off again. We've had a great first round and we've come back from a lot of adversity. We've just got to keep rolling. Our 19 crew is doing really good right now so I'm happy with what we've been able to overcome lately."
Will you have a chance to enjoy making it to the next round? "I've got about a day to do it and then it's off to getting prepared for everything else this year. Our sole focus right now is getting to Homestead and we're one step closer today to doing that."
No. 19 and No. 11 were low in post-race inspection.
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.