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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.”

 

Kevin Harvick expects more suspensions for Rodney Childers; unrepentant about penalty

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A postrace penalty after his victory at Texas Motor Speedway cost Kevin Harvick his crew chief for the final two races of the 2018 season.

But the punishment won’t be a deterrent: Harvick fully expects he will be thrust into a situation without Rodney Childers again.

“It better not be the last time that he gets suspended because I just don’t think you are pushing it hard enough if you’re not,” Harvick said Tuesday night during his “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “That’s part of racing. Not something I’m going to apologize for at any point in my career just because of the fact I want my crew chief doing what he has to do to make my car go as fast as he can. Try to work within the rules and find the gray area you can and win some and lose some.”

Childers was benched for mounting an illegal spoiler on the No. 4 Ford at Texas, which was the eighth and final win of a career season for Harvick. The infraction was discovered during a midweek inspection at the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, and NASCAR stripped the championship benefits of the win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver dominated NASCAR’s Loop Data statistics, finishing first in driver rating, fastest laps, fastest on restarts, laps led and green-flag speed.

Harvick also ranked first with 1,990 laps led — the third time in five seasons with Childers that he has topped that category.

During a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Childers explained that had led to many trips to the R&D Center for extra scrutiny.

“It’s not going to be the last time my crew chief gets suspended,” he said. “That’s just part of what we do, and if you’re going to be one of the good teams, you’re going to have to push the limits. You’re going to have to be on the verge of getting in trouble all the time.  You have to push the envelope.”

Bump & Run panel selects superlatives of 2018 season

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Who is your driver of the year?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick. It was his year in every way but the championship.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. While he won the same number of races (eight) as Kevin Harvick and had one less top five and top 10 than Harvick, the difference is that Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 of the sport’s four majors (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400) and Harvick won none this year.

Daniel McFadin: Brett Moffitt. It’s hard not to choose the driver who piloted an underfunded team – that had never won in the Truck Series before 2018 – through sponsor struggles and bested the elite teams in the series to claim the title. All 13 of his top-10 finishes were top fives. Also, he did it with a rad mustache.

Dan Beaver: Joey Logano was one of the few drivers able to stand up to the Big 3 on and off the track. Throughout the season, the other contenders seemed comfortable in their role as challengers to the dominators, but by declaring himself the favorite for the championship and backing it up, Logano set himself apart.

What is your race of the year?

Nate Ryan: Chicagoland. Probably the best finish of the season but also the most start-to-finish compelling action. (Honorable mentions: Daytona 500, Watkins Glen, Roval, Homestead-Miami Speedway.)

Dustin Long: The Roval. The final laps of that race were amazing and the last lap was mesmerizing with the contact between Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. allowing Ryan Blaney to win and then Kyle Larson’s dramatic effort by bouncing off the wall twice to beat Jeffrey Earnhardt’s stalled car to the finish line to gain the spot he needed to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: The Cup race on the Charlotte Roval. It lived up to all the hype in a way a NASCAR race hasn’t (excluding the first Truck race at Eldora) since probably the 2011 finale with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. The last lap had everything — the contact and spins by Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney stealing the win, Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance to the next round on a tiebreaker and finally Kyle Larson somehow willing his demolished No. 42 Chevrolet across the finish line and into the Round of 12 after hitting the wall twice coming to the checkered flag.

Dan Beaver: Chicagoland. The level of physical aggression in the closing laps on the 1.5-mile track may well signal a change in how races on intermediate speedways will be contested in 2019.

What is your moment of the year?

Nate Ryan: The last lap of the Roval and its aftermath, which took several minutes for a full processing of everything that had just occurred and why.

Dustin Long: A number of fans booed Kyle Busch during his winner’s interview after his dramatic last-lap duel with Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway. As the booing persisted, Busch told fans: “I don’t know what you all are whining about, but if you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.” As fans want drivers to show more personality, they got it there with Busch telling off the haters.

Daniel McFadin: Ross Chastain earning his first career Xfinity win at Las Vegas. The series got a much-needed shot in the arm two weeks before when he led 90 laps at Darlington in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing but came up short after his run-in with Kevin Harvick. Chastain sealing the deal in Vegas provided a win for a sport that’s seen it become harder and harder for drivers to advance through the ranks on pure talent without thorough sponsor backing.

Dan Beaver: The ringing of the siren in Dawsonville, Georgia on August 5 following Chase Elliott’s Watkins Glen win. While it’s been rung before for Chase Elliott, this was the first time of many that it rang for a Cup victory. It took quite a while in 2018 for the young guns to make some noise, but they closed the season strong.

NASCAR America: Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott are among the ‘best of the rest’

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Much of the attention at Miami last weekend was focused on the Championship 4 as Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch battled for the Cup title.

There were points races throughout the field, however, and on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America Parker Kligerman and Dale Jarrett highlighted several drivers who made up the “best of the rest”.

“For (Chase Elliott) it goes back to the fact of it was always about getting that first win,” Kligerman said. “Once he could mentally – and the team could mentally – convince themselves they could win, the floodgates would open and that’s what we saw.”

Aric Almirola had the same average finish (8.6) as Logano during the playoffs and that contributed to his fifth-place position in the points.

“If you look at the first half of the season compared to what they did in the playoffs, it’s astonishing,” Kligerman said. “And Johnny Klausmeier, his crew chief, told me once we start going back to these tracks the second time and as young team really figuring out what we needed, we started to click.”

Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger were also mentioned as notable drivers at various points during the season.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Brad Keselowski computer data disproves intentional spin

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Soon after the conclusion of the Cup finale in Miami, Brad Keselowski took to Twitter to dispel any notion that he spun Daniel Suarez intentionally to create a short run to the finish that would benefit his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano.

On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman analyzed the computer data to confirm that it was just hard racing.

“I just want to say it’s ridiculous,” Parker Kligerman said about the notion Keselowski intentionally caused the accident. “I’ve actually gone onto the SMT data, which is the data we can look at nowadays and see the steering, the braking, the throttle traces of these cars. And I compared Brad’s entry into Turn 1 of that lap compared to any other lap before. He didn’t do anything different other than it was kind of a low percentage move.”

On Lap 248, David Ragan was to Keselowski’s inside with Clint Bowyer below Ragan. Keselowski clipped Suarez when the four drivers ran out of room, sending the No. 19 into a spin that brought out the fateful caution.

“(Keselowski) would have to be a magician … to get hit in the left rear and get knocked into the 19,” Kligerman added.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter