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Bowman clinches Playoff berth with wild, rain-shortened Cup victory at Chicago

Alex Bowman capitalized on a gutsy late-race strategic pit call made by crew chief Blake Harris to race his way into the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by winning the rain-shortened, second annual running of the Grant Park 165 at the Chicago Street Course on Sunday, July 7.

The 31-year-old Bowman from Tucson, Arizona, led the final eight of 58-shortened laps in an event where he started in eighth place and navigated through the streets of Chicago’s wet conditions to record a total of 14 stage points between two stage periods, including the second and latest stage where he remained on the track on wet tires to settle in second place behind Joey Hand. At the conclusion of the second stage period, the event became a race against the clock to conclude at 8:20 p.m. CT instead of its scheduled distance of 75 laps due to an earlier rain delay period that spanned more than an hour and a half.

For the start of the final stage period with 27 laps remaining, Bowman, who was among several front-runners who elected to continue to race on wet tires instead of dry slicks for the remainder of the event following a strategic call made by crew chief Harris, assumed the lead from Hand with 26 laps remaining. Then amid another late-race caution that gave him more time to lead as the event’s timed clock to conclusion kept expiring, he muscled away from the field during the next restart period with 22 laps remaining and led the next two laps before the event was then shortened to two laps remaining (75 to 58 laps overall) as the clock expired. Despite having Tyler Reddick challenging him over the final two laps, Bowman left little room to error around the Chicago Street Course’s 12 turns and he managed to fend off the competition to snap an 80-race winless drought and lock both himself and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team into this year’s Playoff field.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup on Saturday, July 6, Kyle Larson notched his fifth Cup pole position of the 2024 season after posting a 90.168 mph lap in 87.836 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Ty Gibbs, who clocked in the second-fastest qualifying lap at 90.158 mph in 87.846 seconds.

Before the event, several drivers including Brad Keselowski, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Harrison Burton, Ryan Preece and Erik Jones dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective entries. William Byron also started at the rear of the field due to a power steering failure. Notably, Josh Bilicki, who started at the rear of the field, was not permitted to qualify and was assessed a drive-through penalty at the start of the event due to his entry failing pre-race inspection three times.

With rain occurring around the course as the field made the pace laps, the teams were given the option to switch from slick to wet weather tires. Select names including Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and rookie Zane Smith pitted for wet tires while the rest led by Larson and Gibbs remained on the track on dry weather tires.

When the green flag waved and the event commenced, the field fanned out through the frontstretch amid a series of tire spins as Ty Gibbs launched his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry XSE ahead with the early advantage through Turn 1. Gibbs proceeded to lead from Turns 2 to 5 while Tyler Reddick tried to close in from the runner-up spot. With the field then navigating through a long straightaway in South Columbus Drive, Gibbs retained the lead through the next series of turns starting in Turn 6 to East Balbo Drive to South Michigan Drive and the East Congress Plaza Drive through Turns 7 to 11. Through one final right-hand turn to Turn 12, Gibbs led the first lap over Reddick.

Through the second lap, Gibbs slightly stretched his early advantage to more than half a second over Reddick as Kyle Larson, who lost the lead at the start, tried to challenge Reddick for the runner-up spot. Behind, Alex Bowman was trying to fend off Shane van Gisbergen and Bubba Wallace for fourth place before van Gisbergen overtook both Bowman and Larson to move his No. 16 Wendy’s Saucy Nuggets Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 up to third place.

Meanwhile, Truex had carved his way up to 10th place after pitting for wet tires as he tried to close in on Chase Briscoe for more while Christopher Bell and Michael McDowell were in seventh and eighth. With a series of on-course battles ensuing between those who pitted for wet tires versus those who did not, Gibbs retained the lead by a second over Reddick by the fifth lap mark. By then, McDowell, Ryan Preece and Harrison Burton pitted their respective entries for wet tires as rain was being reported within the north end of the circuit.

At the Lap 10 mark, Gibbs, who remained on the course on dry tires, continued to lead by seven-tenths of a second over a hard-charging van Gisbergen as Bell, Larson and Briscoe followed suit in the top five. Behind, Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman, John Hunter Nemechek and Todd Gilliland trailed in the top 10 while Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., AJ Allmendinger, rookie Carson Hocevar, Joey Hand, Justin Haley and Kaz Grala rounded out the top 20 ahead of Chris Buescher, Austin Hill, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Daniel Hemric. By then, select names including LaJoie, Austin Dillon and Truex had pitted.

A lap later, Gibbs, who was stuck behind Preece and Joey Logano as the latter two were struggling on wet tires and trying to remain on the lead lap, was overtaken by van Gisbergen for the lead through the South Michigan Avenue and entering Turn 11. With van Gisbergen leading through the frontstretch and at the Lap 12 mark, Bell would also try to follow suit in his No. 20 Craftsman Toyota Camry XSE, but Gibbs would fend him off as Bell bumped and nearly sent Logano sideways in Turn 1. With Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spinning in Turn 1 while the event remained under green flag conditions, select names including Burton, Logano, Preece, Erik Jones, Cindric and McDowell were lapped as van Gisbergen stretched his advantage to a second over Bell by Lap 14. Bell, however, would assume the lead from van Gisbergen on Lap 15.

A lap later, the event’s first caution period flew due to LaJoie, who was scored in 29th place, spinning and crashing his No. 7 Celsius Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the wall in Turn 5 as he was dodged by oncoming traffic, including the leader, while faced backward. By then, van Gisbergen had reassumed the lead from Bell as Gibbs, Briscoe and Larson were running in the top five.

With the precipitation slowly increasing around the circuit, the first stage period scheduled to conclude on Lap 20 concluded under caution as van Gisbergen claimed the first Cup stage victory of his career and of the 2024 season. Bell, who swept both stage periods a year ago at the streets of Chicago, settled in second ahead of Gibbs, Briscoe and Larson while Bowman, Wallace, Gilliland, Reddick and Suarez were scored in the top 10. By then, 30 of 40 competitors were scored on the lead lap as William Byron, LaJoie, Ryan Blaney and rookie Josh Berry were pinned a lap down.

During the closing laps of the first stage period, NASCAR announced that the event’s conclusion would occur at 8:20 p.m. CT, even if the event did not reach its scheduled distance of Lap 75, which made the event a race against the clock for the scheduled time. Once the event’s leader crosses the start/finish line at the time when the clock expires, the next lap will be the final lap and the checkered flag will follow suit with no overtime rules occurring.

Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by van Gisbergen, including those on dry tires, pitted for wet tires while Zane Smith remained on the track. Following the pit stops, where the field stacked up upon exiting pit road to avoid an on-track safety vehicle, Bell exited first while Gibbs, Larson, van Gisbergen, Bowman, Wallace, Briscoe and Reddick, who ran into the rear of teammate Wallace, followed suit.

The second stage period started on Lap 23 as Smith and Bell occupied the front row. At the start, Gibbs managed to overtake both to reassume the lead in Turn 1. Shortly after, Wallace, who was battling in the top 10, spun at the exit of Turn 2 after Bowman made contact with Wallace’s No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota Camry XSE, which resulted in Wallace making rear-end contact with the tire barriers and sliding back into the path of both Bowman and Suarez.

As the field continued to navigate through the course, the caution would then return just shy of Lap 25 due to Briscoe sliding sideways amid the slick conditions and slamming into the tire barriers on the driver’s side of the No. 14 Mahindra Tractors Ford Mustang Dark Horse in Turn 6 while also clipping van Gisbergen as both were racing in the top six. In the process, van Gisbergen slid and slammed into the outside wall on the right side in Turn 6 and came to a full stop towards the wall. The incident was enough for van Gisbergen to retire from competition as his hopes of winning on the streets of Chicago for a second consecutive season evaporated.

“I just sort of turned in [to Turn 6], it looked pretty good and then just got smashed by [Briscoe],” van Gisbergen said upon being released from the infield care center on NBC. “Gutting. That sucks, but it’s an unfortunate mistake by him. I’m sure he didn’t mean it, but yeah, when he just clipped me, ain’t nothing I could do. It’s a shame to be out so early and shame we couldn’t have a proper crack at [the win] at the end.”

During the caution period, the field led by Gibbs was directed to pit road and the race was placed in a red flag period for one hour and 43 minutes due to the rain as the on-track crews went to work to blow the standing water off of the course.

Once the field led by Gibbs returned to the course under a cautious pace, some including Byron, Erik Jones, Suarez, Logano, LaJoie, Preece and Burton pitted for a fresh set of wet tires. By then, the race had approximately an hour before it would reach its scheduled time of concluding at 8:20 p.m. CT.

When the race restarted on Lap 30, where all competitors restarted in single-line formation, Gibbs retained the lead from teammate Bell through the first turn before navigating his way from Turns 2 to 5. Then through the South Columbus Drive, Bell drew even with teammate Gibbs before he gained the advantage and moved into the lead in Turn 6. With Denny Hamlin locking his tires and running into the rear of Stenhouse as both spun and hit the tire barriers in Turn 6, the race remained under green flag conditions as Bell retained the lead over teammate Gibbs over the next four laps. In the process, Larson began to ignite his challenge on Gibbs for the runner-up spot while Reddick and Gilliland carved their way into the top five over Nemechek, Elliott, Chastain, Allmendinger and Smith.

Then on Lap 33 and with Bell stretching his advantage to more than a second, the caution flew after Larson, who was battling Gibbs for the runner-up spot, locked up his front tires and went dead straight into the tire barriers in Turn 6 as he got his No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 stuck underneath the barriers. With the assistance of a wrecker, Larson limped his car that had heavy front nose damage as far as he could around the course, starting from Turn 6, before he parked his car in Turn 8 and retired from further competition.

The start of the next restart period on Lap 36 featured Bell retaining the lead over teammate Gibbs, Reddick and Gilliland through the first two turns. With seventh-place Chastain barely hitting the wall in Turn 4, trouble struck as Josh Berry hit the tire barriers head-on in Turn 4. In the ensuing process, teammate Briscoe spun off the course in the exact same turn, but both continued without drawing a caution. Amid the chaos, Bell slowly stretched his advantage to more than half a second over teammate Gibbs during the ensuing four laps.

Just past the Lap 40 mark, Bell retained the lead by eight-tenths of a second over teammate Gibbs while third-place Gilliland trailed by four seconds. Behind, Nemechek and Reddick were in the top five as Allmendinger, Joey Hand, Chastain, Bowman and Justin Haley were in the top 10 ahead of Buescher, Grala, Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Elliott.

With three laps remaining in the second stage period and with nearly half an hour of racing left on the clock, select names including Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Austin Hill, McDowell, Blaney, Byron, Zane Smith, Cindric, Suarez and Wallace pitted their respective entries for slick tires. Teammates Bell and Gibbs along with Gilliland, Nemechek, Reddick, Allmendinger, Chastain, Haley, Buescher and Grala all pitted for dry tires during the next lap as Joey Hand cycled into the lead. In the process, Austin Dillon and Berry had on-track incidents of their own within separate turns, but the event remained under green flag conditions.

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 45, Joey Hand, an accomplished sports car competitor from Sacramento, California, who was making his first NASCAR start of the 2024 season in Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s No. 60 Ford Mustang Dark Horse entry, captured the stage victory, which was also his first in the Cup Series level. Bowman followed suit in second along with Keselowski, Hocevar and Truex while Noah Gragson, Daniel Hemric, Stenhouse, Burton and Hamlin were scored in the top 10. By then and with the top-10 competitors all remaining on the track on wet tires, Bell was mired in 13th place, but running two spots ahead of teammate Gibbs on his slick tires while Gilliland, Reddick, Nemechek, Allmendinger and Haley were mired within the top 20 on the course.

With 27 laps remaining but less than 20 minutes left until the event reached its concluding time of 8:20 p.m. CT, the final stage commenced as Hand, who along with the rest of the field remained on the track during the second stage’s break period, led Bowman, Keselowski, Hocevar, Truex and the rest of the field through the frontstretch. At the start, Hand retained a slim lead in his No. 60 BuildSumbarines.com Ford Mustang Dark Horse over Bowman through the first two turns while Truex was trying to overtake Hocevar for fourth place. Hand would was lead through Turns 2 to 5 and through South Columbus Drive before he made his way into Turn 6 with the top spot. Behind, Keselowski retained third place ahead of Truex, Hocevar and Stenhouse just past Turn 6 while Hand maintained the lead by within half a second as he led the proceeding lap.

Down to the final 25 laps of the event, Hand continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Bowman, who kept intimidating Hand through every turn, as Keselowski, Truex and Hocevar followed suit in the top five. Meanwhile, Bell, racing on slick tires, was mired in 11th place behind Stenhouse, Gragson, Hemric, Burton and Preece while Gibbs, Reddick, Briscoe and Nemechek were in the top 15 ahead of Berry, McDowell, Gilliland, Blaney and Hamlin. In the process, Allmendinger was recovering from spinning in Turn 12 without drawing a caution.

Then just as Bowman assumed the lead from Hand in Turn 5 and was entering South Columbus Drive during the following lap, the caution returned due to Berry wrecking and getting his No. 4 Overstock.com Ford Mustang Dark Horse stuck underneath the tire barriers.

With 22 laps but four-and-a-half minutes on the clock remaining, the race restarted as Bowman retained the lead ahead of Hand and the field through the first turn. Amid a strong start, Bowman retained a steady advantage through the next set of turns while Briscoe and Nemechek each wrecked separately. As the race continued to run under green flag conditions, Bell muscled his way up to eighth place behind Hocevar and Gragson while Bowman retained the lead entering Turn 6 before he navigated his way through Turns 7 to 11.

The following lap, Truex got sideways in Turn 2 and he got teammate Bell, who was about to crack the top five, spinning sideways in front of Hocevar as both Bell and Hocevar collided into one another towards the wall. Despite all competitors continuing without drawing a caution, Bell’s progress to drive back to the front was derailed as he pitted and eventually retired from the race. In the process, Bowman kept his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 out in front of the field while running strong on his wet tires.

Then as the time clock expired and the event’s duration decreased from 20 to two laps remaining, Bowman continued to lead by more than a second over Hand as Reddick, Gibbs and Stenhouse trailed in the top five. Reddick, who was on slick tires, would proceed to overtake Hand for the runner-up spot, but he trailed Bowman by more than three seconds.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Bowman remained as the leader by two seconds over Reddick, who was mounting a late charge on slick tires and logging in faster lap times than Bowman. With Reddick hitting the inside wall in Turn 5 and losing ground amid his late-race charge, Bowman was able to navigate the final seven sets of turns within the streets of Chicago smoothly and to perfection as he returned to the frontstretch victorious for his first checkered flag in over two years.

With the victory, Bowman achieved his eighth career win in the NASCAR Cup Series division, his first on a road course and street course venue and his first since winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2022. The victory was also the first for crew chief Blake Harris, who assumed the role as crew chief of the No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team at the start of the 2023 season. In addition, Bowman’s victory for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 team, which was the eighth of the season for the Hendrick organization and the ninth for the Chevrolet nameplate through 20-scheduled events, means that team owner Rick Hendrick has all four of his entries making the Playoffs and for the first time since the 2022 season.

Bowman’s victory was also a redemptive moment for the Arizona native, whose championship hopes in 2022 evaporated when he wrecked at Texas Motor Speedway during the Round of 12 opener. The incident resulted in Bowman sustaining a concussion and missing five of the final six events of the schedule and also eliminated him from the Playoffs following the Round of 12. He then suffered a back injury following a sprint car accident in late April that forced him to miss three regular-season races in 2023 and resulted in him missing the 2023 Playoffs. The 2024 season will mark Bowman’s sixth time overall being a participant in the Playoffs in NASCAR’s premier series.

“Anytime you go to the racetrack with Hendrick Motorsports, you got a shot [at winning],” Bowman said on NBC. “We have a trophy to take home. [I] Know it means a lot to this team. They put me in position to win the race. Man, I broke my back, had a brain injury and we kind of sucked ever since. You start to second-guess if you’re ever gonna get a chance to win a race again. Last one we won, we really didn’t get to celebrate. We’re gonna drink so much damn bourbon tonight. It’s gonna be a bad deal. I’m probably gonna wake up naked on the bathroom floor again, but that’s the part of this deal sometimes. Excited to get home. It’s gonna be a good night.”

Tyler Reddick charged his No. 45 Jordan Brand Toyota Camry XSE to a runner-up result for his eighth top-five result of the 2024 season while Ty Gibbs charged his way up to third place on slick tires and for his fifth top-five result of the season. Joey Hand notched a career-best fourth place while Michael McDowell came home in fifth place.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Todd Gilliland, William Byron, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10 in the final running order.

Notably, Bubba Wallace, who ran into the side of Bowman after the race to express his displeasure over being spun by Bowman earlier in the race, rallied to finish 13th behind Daniel Suarez and Daniel Hemric. In addition, Brad Keselowski slipped to 18th, Chase Elliott ended up 21st behind Chris Buescher but ahead of Ross Chastain and Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin ended up 30th after he wrecked with Austin Hill into the tire barriers with two laps remaining and Martin Truex Jr. ended up 33rd following his late-race wreck. In addition, Christopher Bell, who was unable to finish, ended up 37th.

There were nine lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 19 laps. In addition, 34 of 40 starters finished on the lead lap.

Following the 20th event of the 2024 Cup Series season, Kyle Larson continues to lead the regular-season standings by 11 points over teammate Chase Elliott, 23 over Tyler Reddick, 42 over Denny Hamlin, 70 over Martin Truex Jr. and 72 over William Byron.

Results.

1. Alex Bowman, eight laps led

2. Tyler Reddick

3. Ty Gibbs, 17 laps led

4. Joey Hand, seven laps led, Stage 2 winner

5. Michael McDowell

6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

7. Todd Gilliland

8. William Byron

9. Kyle Busch

10. Ryan Blaney

11. Daniel Suarez

12. Daniel Hemric

13. Bubba Wallace

14. Noah Gragson

15. Austin Cindric

16. Justin Haley

17. Zane Smith, three laps led

18. Brad Keselowski

19. Austin Dillon

20. Chris Buescher

21. Chase Elliott

22. Ross Chastain

23. Joey Logano

24. Carson Hocevar

25. Harrison Burton

26. Kaz Grala

27. Corey LaJoie

28. Josh Bilicki

29. Erik Jones

30. Denny Hamlin

31. Austin Hill

32. Chase Briscoe

33. Martin Truex Jr.

34. Ryan Preece

35. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap down

36. Josh Berry, one lap down

37. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident, 14 laps led

38. AJ Allmendinger – OUT, Accident

39. Kyle Larson – OUT, Accident

40. Shane van Gisbergen – OUT, nine laps led, Stage 1 winner

Next on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, for The Great American Getaway 400. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, July 14, and air at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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