Coming off injury, Alex Bowman facing pivotal season

Alex Bowman

Alex Bowman has had a solid career in the NASCAR Cup Series up to this point. After driving for lesser funded teams at the sport’s top level in 2014 and 2015, the native of Tucson, Arizona joined Hendrick Motorsports on a part-time basis in 2016 then as a full-time competitor from 2018 to the present. 

In those years piloting a car for that powerhouse Chevrolet team, the 29-year old has won a total of seven races and has qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs in all five of his campaigns with HMS.

Bowman’s best Playoff effort came in 2020 when he finished 6th in the final standings. Otherwise, his season-ending results have been no better than 12th place. He has won a race in each of the past five seasons with 2021 being the high water mark after he captured four checkered flags.

Going into the 2023 season, the driver of the No. 48 will face a new challenge. Bowman made hard contact with the outside wall in last September’s event at the Texas Motor Speedway. Even though he went on to finish that race, the concussion-like symptoms that later appeared sidelined the driver for the next five races.

Bowman did not return to the driver’s seat until the NASCAR Cup Series finale in Phoenix last November. He finished 34th in that race after crashing. 

“It was an okay year,” Bowman replied during a media availability prior to the NASCAR Awards festivities. “I felt like we started off the year pretty strong then fell off in the summer months. But in the Playoffs we came around and I feel like we were performing pretty well until I got hurt. I thought we were able to turn it up a little bit for the Playoffs and I think we were in a good place until I got hurt. Obviously a bummer but part of it sometimes.”

So now the young driver will be making a comeback of sorts to full-time racing following last year’s unexpected hiatus. But the bigger issue may be whether or not he can make a comeback in terms of running near the front of the field consistently. Following his win in the third race of the 2022 season at Las Vegas, Bowman only posted three more top-five finishes over the remainder of the schedule. 

Never having posted dominating numbers of laps led during any season, Bowman led only 137 laps in all of 2022 with 107 of those coming in one race at Kansas Speedway.

Greater consistency throughout the season is a must for Bowman and his team if they are to become true title contenders. Any driver piloting an HMS car is expected to be a threat to win or run near the front of the pack on a regular basis and the No. 48 has had trouble doing so. 

“I feel great,” Bowman declared when asked about his health and his outlook for 2023. “Obviously, the season was a bummer, getting hurt at the end. The summer months didn’t go how we needed it to but we were really good through the Playoffs. We were in a good spot until I got hurt. I’m excited for ‘23. I think we have a strong team.”

Alex Bowman has won a race in each of the past four seasons

The fact that Bowman was able to come back from his injuries in time to participate in the final race of the season will help to get him ready both physically and mentally for 2023. 

“For me, I didn’t want to sit all off-season not knowing,” Bowman declared. “Just knowing that I could sit in a race car and still do it. We wanted to have a better day but if you’re going to take a positive from it, I crashed pretty hard and felt okay so that was good. If I didn’t get back in a Cup car, I went and ran a Sprint Car that next week so that probably wouldn’t have happened and I might not be going to the Chili Bowl with the Cup car being so much more of a priority. I’m excited that I feel back to 100%. I’m going to train hard all off-season and drive other things to prepare myself the best I can.”

Another challenge going into the upcoming season will be that of adjusting to a new crew chief. After having Greg Ives atop the pit box during his entire time at HMS, new pit boss Blake Harris joined the team from Front Row Motorsports when Ives decided to step away from full-time racing. 

“It’s a new perspective, right?,” the driver rhetorically asked when questioned about his new team leader. “Greg and I are good friends and we’ll continue that. He’s meant a ton for my career. I think I’m as excited to work with Blake as I am to see the future for Greg and to see what he’s going to do and how much more time he’s going to be able to spend with his family. I’m looking forward to the future. Blake has been awesome to work with so far..”

Because his team is in a time of transition, Bowman has changed his off-season routine. 

“It’s hard without going to the race track and things are different this time of year,” Bowman replied when asked about working with a new crew chief. “I’ve tried to spend more time in the shop than I normally would this time of year. There’s not a lot going on because more people are taking vacations and just doing this and that. Somebody who has been with other successful teams and bringing the perspective of other teams, that’s always good to have.”

Add one other bit of pressure to the coming season as well. According to the website, Bowman’s contract with Hendrick is set to expire at the end of 2023 so there will no doubt be at least some distractions if that situation drags on for very long. 

Bowman has won at least one race per year since 2019. If there is a problem with that, it would be that only one of those years featured multiple victories. The key in this coming season is to show that 2021 when he won four races was no fluke. With teammates such as former champions Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, it could be easy to get lost in the shuffle so achieving enough to make sure everyone remembers that he can contend for wins and a championship will be essential this year.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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