When the green flag waves in the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 19, Alex Bowman will reach a significant milestone in his racing career. By starting this Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the Lone Star state, Bowman will make his 100th Cup start in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.
When the 2015 season concluded, Bowman had competed in his first two full-time seasons in the Cup Series between BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. His best finishes between the two seasons was 13th at Daytona in July 2014 and 16th at Talladega in May 2015. Prior to the 2016 season, however, Bowman was left without a full-time ride after Tommy Baldwin Racing decided to replace Bowman with Regan Smith for the upcoming Cup season. All the Arizona native had in his racing schedule for 2016 was a nine-race stint in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports.
Through July and following his first five races with JRM, Bowman finished in the top 10 in all of his starts, which included a third-place result at Dover in May. Then, an opportunity made way for him when Dale Earnhardt Jr., two-time Daytona 500 champion and one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, experienced concussion-like symptoms and did not participate in the upcoming Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July 2016. During the race, Bowman had a strong run in his first Cup race in Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Nationwide/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS led by crew chief Greg Ives. Despite running in the top 10 the majority of the run, he cut a tire on Lap 272 of 301 and finished 26th, but he still left New Hampshire satisfied with his run while receiving the opportunity to compete alongside NASCAR’s elite. Bowman and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon would, ultimately, fill in the No. 88 Chevrolet for the remainder of the 2016 season when the concussion symptoms sidelined Earnhardt Jr. Competing in nine of the remaining 13 Cup races, Bowman recorded three top-10 results, including a career-best sixth place at Phoenix in November on a weekend where he recorded his first Cup career pole. He also competed in four more Xfinity races with JR Motorsports and earned two more top-10 results.
Based on winning the pole position at Phoenix, Bowman piloted the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona in February 2017, where he finished third after battling Kyle Busch on the final lap. While Earnhardt Jr. returned to racing full time for the 2017 season, Bowman, again, was left without a full-time ride within NASCAR’s three major division series, making only one start in the NASCAR Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway with GMS Racing in February, where he finished sixth. In April, Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement from racing full time in the Cup Series and was a leading advocate for Bowman to replace him. On July 20, Bowman was officially named the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide/AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsports for the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season. For the remainder of the 2017 season, Bowman competed in two Xfinity Series races in the No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro for Chip Ganassi Racing. In October at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he notched his first Xfinity career victory after leading the final 32 laps. He finished eighth in his other start at Phoenix in November.
In his first run in the No. 88 Chevrolet in 2018, Bowman won the pole position for the 60th running of the Daytona 500 with a pole-winning speed at 195.644 mph in 46.002 seconds. Leading 13 laps, he finished 17th in the 500 after being involved in a late multi-car wreck. Finishing no higher than 13th in the first five races of the 2018 season, Bowman recorded his first top-10 result, seventh, the following race at Martinsville Speedway. Two races later, he recorded his first career top-five result, fifth, at Bristol Motor Speedway. For the remaining 18 races of the regular season, Bowman recorded seven more top-10 results, including a career-best third place at Pocono Raceway in July, to make his Playoffs. With finishes of 19th, 12th and fourth in the three races of the Round of 16 in the Playoffs, he advanced to the Round of 12. The following round, he recorded finishes of 28th, 33rd and ninth, and was eliminated from title contention. Ultimately, he concluded the season in 16th in the final standings. During his first full-time season racing for Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman recorded three top-five results, 11 top-10 results and an average result of 17.0. In May, he competed in the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway and won the first segment to advance to his first All-Star Race, where he finished last of the 21-car field following an accident in the third stage.
Bowman started the 2019 Cup season by qualifying on the front row for the Daytona 500, starting alongside teammate and pole-sitter William Byron, and finishing fifth in the rain-shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. For the first nine races of the season, he finished no higher than 11th. By then, he surpassed 50 starts with HMS. In April at Talladega Superspeedway, Bowman notched a career-best second place behind teammate Chase Elliott. He went on to finish in the runner-up spot the following two races at Dover and at Kansas. The following week, he finished third in the Monster Energy Open, but he advanced to the All-Star Race after winning the Fan Vote, where he finished eighth. For the next four races, he finished no higher than seventh. In June at Chicagoland Speedway, Bowman prevailed in a late battle with Kyle Larson to score his first NASCAR Cup Series career win. With the victory coming in his 134th series career start, Bowman became the 18th competitor to win driving for Hendrick Motorsports and the 192nd competitor to win a Cup race. He also recorded the first victory for the No. 88 HMS Chevrolet team led by crew chief Greg Ives since November 2015 at Phoenix, an accomplishment last made by Earnhardt Jr. The win at Chicagoland guaranteed the Arizona native a spot for the 2019 Cup Playoffs. In the three races featured in the Round of 16 in the Playoffs, Bowman recorded finishes of sixth, 23rd and second to advance to the Round of 12. For the second round, however, he recorded finishes of third, 37th and 11th, and was eliminated from championship contention. He went on to finish 12th in the final standings while recording seven top-five results, 12 top-10 results and an average result of 14.4.
This season, Bowman recorded his second Cup career victory at Auto Club Speedway in March after leading a race-high 110 of the event’s 200-scheduled laps. He has also recorded two top-five results, five top-10 results and an average result of 16.9 through the first 17 Cup races of the 2020 season. He is coming off an eighth-place result in the All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which occurred on July 15, and is ninth in the regular-season standings, trailing points leader Kevin Harvick by 177 points. He is, nonetheless, guaranteed a spot in the 2020 Playoffs by virtue of his victory at Auto Club. He is also scheduled to remain as driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Hendrick Motorsports after signing a one-year contract extension with the 12-time championship-winning team in May.
Catch Bowman’s milestone start with Hendrick Motorsports in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas on July 19, which will air at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.