For a weekend, Alex Bowman is the central focus in NASCAR driving No. 88 car

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
1 Comment

In a year where Alex Bowman says he needs to prove himself, he climbed into Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Sprint Cup car Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the sport focused on him.

Bowman is driving Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet this weekend because the sport’s most popular driver is out after experiencing “concussion-like symptoms.’’ No timetable has been set on Earnhardt’s return. A Hendrick Motorsports official said Friday that Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement and drive Earnhardt’s car next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if Earnhardt is not cleared medically to compete.

So who is the guy driving Earnhardt’s car this weekend and also making his fifth start of the year for Earnhardt’s Xfinity team, JR Motorsports?

The 23-year-old Bowman rose to the Xfinity Series in 2013 with flashes of speed, climbed into the Sprint Cup Series in 2014 and found himself out of a ride a few weeks before this year’s Daytona 500.

Until he drove in May’s Xfinity Series event at Dover, Bowman had not raced since driving a midget car in the Chili Bowl in January. In the first of nine races he’ll run this season for Earnhardt’s team, JR Motorsports, Bowman finished third that day but noted he needed to do more.

“These nine races I have to go win some,’’ Bowman said in May at Dover. “I have to prove that I should be here, and I think winning means that. You can have these days where you lead laps and you run third, but at the end of the day, Erik Jones is in victory lane holding the trophy and I’m not. I need to win races.”

Since he didn’t have a ride early in the season, Bowman attended a few races but couldn’t do that for long.

“It’s really awkward as a race car diver going to the track and not driving a race car,’’ Bowman said at Dover. “It’s pretty miserable, to be honest with you. I did it a couple of times to start the year off and then I was like I’ve got to stay away, I’m going to depress myself. It was really humbling.’’

Bowman has faced challenges in his career.

In 2010, he flipped during a midget car race at Las Vegas and spent a week in the intensive care unit. He broke ribs and both collarbones. He couldn’t see for about three days because his eyes were swollen shut. Told he couldn’t race for eight weeks, Bowman returned to the car in half that time.

He moved to NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2011 and won rookie of the year honors. Chase Elliott was third in the rookie of the year standings that season.

Bowman was rookie of the year in ARCA in 2012. He ran the full Xfinity season in 2013 before joining BK Racing for the 2014 Cup season. He moved to Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2015. In 71 career Sprint Cup starts, Bowman’s best finish is 13th at Daytona in July 2014.

Bowman has had a relationship with JR Motorsports since 2014. What started as a conversation between Bowman and Earnhardt before a race at Richmond International Raceway led to Bowman driving two Xfinity races for the team in 2014.

“I think I can really thank Dale Jr. for saving my career two years ago pretty much, with those two Xfinity races at Charlotte and Phoenix, and then for the opportunity to run nine races this year with him,’’ Bowman said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “He has been a good friend to me. He has been somebody that I can lean on all the time.’’

Bowman drove one Camping World Truck race for JR Motorsports in 2015 and then added the nine Xfinity races this season. Saturday’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire will be his fifth start of the season.

He was a natural selection when Earnhardt’s team was looking for what it thought would be a backup driver earlier in the week. When Earnhardt was advised not to race this weekend, Bowman became the primary option.

“It’s the best opportunity I’ve ever had in my life,’’ Bowman said Friday. “I’m ready to just plug into their program and do my job. I’ll give them the best feedback I can and go from there. I’m really confident in the whole team. Obviously they bring great race cars to the track every weekend, so if I just do my job I feel like we would be good to plug into it.”

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points

Portland Xfinity results
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Truck race results at WWT Raceway: Grant Enfinger wins


Grant Enfinger took the lead when the leaders wrecked in the final laps and held off the field in overtime to win Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

It is Enfinger’s second win in the last five races. He also collected a $50,000 bonus for winning the Triple Truck Challenge.

MORE: Truck race results

MORE: Driver points after WWT Raceway

Christian Eckes finished second and was followed by Stewart Friesen, Carson Hocevar and Chase Purdy.

Ty Majeski and Zane Smith wrecked while racing for the lead with six laps to go. Majeski, running on the inside of Smith, slid up the track and clipped Smith’s truck. Both hit the wall. That put Enfinger in the lead.

Smith finished 20th. Majeski placed 30th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Stewart Friesen

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Grant Enfinger’s victory is his fourth top 10 in the last five races. … Carson Hocevar’s fourth-place finish is his fourth consecutive top-five result. … Stewart Friesen’s third-place finish moved him into a playoff spot with four races left in the regular season. … Matt DiBenedetto‘s sixth-place finish is his third consecutive top 10. … Jesse Love finished ninth in his series debut.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ty Majeski had a chance to take the points lead with series leader Corey Heim out because of illness, but Majeski’s 30th-place finish after running at the front most of the day, leaves him behind Heim. … Hailie Deegan finished 32nd after contact sent her truck into the wall hard. … After finishing a career-high third last week at Charlotte, Dean Thompson placed 34th Saturday due to an engine issue.

NEXT: The series races June 23 at Nashville Superspeedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1)

Xfinity starting lineup at Portland: Sheldon Creed wins pole


Sheldon Creed scored his first career Xfinity Series pole by taking the top spot for Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.

Creed, making his 50th career series start, earned the pole with a lap of 95.694 mph on the 1.97-mile road course.

MORE: Portland Xfinity starting lineup

Cole Custer will start second with a lap of 95.398 mph. He is followed by Josh Berry (94.242 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (95.127) and Charlotte winner Justin Allgaier (94.897). Road racing specialist Jordan Taylor, driving for Kaulig Racing, qualified sixth at 94.772 mph.

The green flag is scheduled to wave 4:46 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.