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In Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride and at his ‘worst’ track, Alex Bowman proves he belongs

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LOUDON, N.H. – Racing around Sprint Cup superstars is nothing new for Alex Bowman, who raced full time in NASCAR’s premier series from 2014-15.

But racing with the elite?

That’s what made Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway special for Bowman, who filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet and raced inside the top 15 for much of the New Hampshire 301.

“I passed Jimmie Johnson,” Bowman, 23, exclaimed with a smile when asked if there was a moment when he realized he belonged. “Yeah, I’ve never … The biggest thing is I’ve raced around those guys for two years; almost three years now. I’ve never raced with them.

“Today I was finally able to do that.”

Bowman finished 26th, the last driver on the lead lap, because of a cut left-rear tire that sent his car into the Turn 1 wall with 28 laps remaining. Bowman made contact with Kurt Busch while losing control of his car because of the tire problem, which he said stemmed from a pit collision with Carl Edwards.

“I think (Carl Edwards) was backing up because he was blocked in as I was leaving the pit box,” Bowman said. “My left-rear hit his right-rear as I was leaving.  It caved it in enough, we thought we would be fine, but obviously, when I got into (Kurt Busch) it was already going down.

“They knew we were here for sure and I had a blast.”

Making the result even sweeter is that the Tucson, Arizona, native considers the 1.058-mile oval his worst track. He credited a warm reception from crew chief Greg Ives and team for helping ease the transition as the high-profile substitute for Earnhardt, who missed the race with concussion symptoms.

“When I got the call I was like, ‘Oh, Loudon? Really? OK, well, I’ll try,’” Bowman said. “And they were so welcoming. Such great people to get to work with. Greg (Ives) and all the guys….I had so much fun working with everybody. I can’t thank Mr. ‘H’, enough, too, for letting me be here. it was just an absolute blast.”

Bowman raced for BK Racing in 2014 and Tommy Baldwin Racing last year. His only top 15 was a 13th in the 2014 Daytona 500. His best finish on a non-restrictor plate track is  20th (at Bristol Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway in 2015).

“I don’t think I’ve gotten out of a Cup car with a smile on my face in a while,” said Bowman, who is racing for JR Motorsports this season after being cut loose by Baldwin. “We had some amazing runs with TBR. Can’t thank Tommy and all those guys enough for what they did for my career last year. We had a lot of fun together. We had our struggles.

“It’s just so much fun to get to run up front like that. I’ve spent two years of my career wondering ‘Can I really do this at the Cup level’ and today I answered that for myself.”

 

Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman ‘clear the air’ about All-Star incident

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CONCORD, N.C. — Five days after Clint Bowyer threw several punches at Ryan Newman as Newman sat in his car after the All-Star Race, the two sat side by side during an autograph session at a Bass Pro Shops near Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowyer was upset with Newman for contact that led to Bowyer crashing after last weekend’s race. After Bowyer drove to pit road, he ran to Newman’s car while still wearing his helmet — earning a rebuke from his team owner for not removing his helmet. After reaching Newman’s car, Bowyer unleashed a number of punches.

Both drivers talked this week before they got to the autograph session.

“It was good to have a conversation about it,” Bowyer said Thursday night after qualifying eighth at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. “At the end of the day there were a lot of things that escalated very fast and obviously got out of hand.

“There’s one thing I can always promise you about something like that and it is unfortunate, and you hate having things like that happen, (but) that’s probably the best attended autograph session at Bass Pro Shops that I’ve had in a long, long time.

“Obviously I don’t want to do that every weekend. At the end of the day we all love this sport, we are all passionate about this sport and every now and then that shows a little brighter.”

Bowyer was asked if he thought Newman would retaliate.

“I don’t know,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully it’s behind us. We both have a little better understanding of how it escalated into that and you’ve just got to get stuff like that behind you.”

Newman said it was good to talk to Bowyer about what happened.

“It was good to kind of clear the air,” Newman said. “It is what it is. It’s the past. Just something you always remember. You learn about somebody in a situation like that.”

Newman was asked if he’ll race Bowyer differently.

“I try to race everybody the same way and that’s hard because that’s what I get paid to do,” said Newman, who qualified 18th for the Coca-Cola 600. “I try to give-and-take when I came. The way it works anymore with stage points, especially in the All-Star race, you don’t give and take. You take.”

Starting lineup for the Coca-Cola 600

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William Byron will start first and Aric Almirola will start second for Sunday’s 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600.

Byron, 21, is the youngest pole-sitter in the race’s history.

The top five is completed by defending race winner Kyle Busch, 2017 race winner Austin Dillon and two-time 600 winner Kevin Harvick.

Click here for the starting lineup.

William Byron wins pole for Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. —  William Byron won the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Byron claimed the top spot with a qualifying speed of 183.424 mph. At the age of 21, he’s the youngest Coca-Cola 600 pole-sitter.

It’s Byron’s second career Cup pole, joining his pole in this year’s Daytona 500.

He beat out Aric Almirola (183.069 mph), Kyle Busch (182.933), Austin Dillon (182.766) and Kevin Harvick (182.741).

“This is awesome, a dream come true,” Byron told FS1. “Obviously, I grew up in Charlotte so I came to this race every year. It’s a dream come true to qualify on the pole next to Hendrick Motorsports across the street over there. … Can’t think of a better way to start the weekend.”

Byron has qualified on the front row five time this year and four times in the last seven races.

The pole is the 12th for Hendrick Motorsports in the 600, which leads all teams.

Busch has qualified in the top three for the last three 600s.

Corey LaJoie‘s No. 32 Ford failed pre-qualifying inspection twice, resulting in the ejection of an engineer.

Click here for qualifying results.

Joey Logano and family mourn their dog

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CONCORD, N.C. — Joey Logano provided a sobering update Thursday night about the family’s lost dog, Luigi.

The dog had been missing since Tuesday.

Logano’s wife Brittany wrote on a Facebook post for lost and found pets in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area that the family’s French Bulldog got out of their fence Tuesday night.

“Our little Luigi I believe he’s stolen, I think,” Joey Logano said earlier Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We can’t really put a match to anything. We put a bunch of signs up and things on social media and we watched the cameras at our house and we see him running around the backyard and then you don’t see him again. Not really sure what happened there.”

“We’ve learned that Frenchies are one of the most stolen dogs around. It’s kind of sad that someone does that. It’s a member of your family. It’s a jerk move. Hopefully, we can figure it out.”