Career-best finish doesn’t satisfy Alex Bowman

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — A career-best finish left Alex Bowman frustrated.

That’s how much things have changed for the 23-year-old Arizona native, who until this year, drove underfunded and underpowered cars in the Sprint Cup Series.

But when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sidelined by a concussion this summer, Hendrick Motorsports turned to Bowman and Jeff Gordon to drive the No. 88 car the rest of the year.

Bowman, who started on the pole Sunday, led a race-high 194 laps but saw his chances of winning end after contact with Matt Kenseth in overtime at Phoenix International Raceway. Bowman finished sixth.

MORE: Dale Jr. goes through gamut of emotions watching 88

He admitted part of his disappointment was with getting into Kenseth — although Kenseth’s spotter cleared Kenseth — along with not scoring a win when he had one of the best cars.

“Those last couple of restarts, I just didn’t do a very good job,’’ Bowman said on pit road after the race. “We should have been leading that last restart to begin with. That part of it is unfortunate, what happened with (Kenseth). I hate taking somebody out of the Chase like that. It ruined our day, too. There’s s no way we should have finished sixth. That’s the worst we were all day. It’s just frustrating.’’

The incident with Kenseth took place on a Lap 317 restart of what was a 324-lap race. Kenseth, who led, was on the outside lane. Bowman was on the inside.

“(Kenseth) spun his tires, and I had a pretty solid run and (Kyle Busch) hit me and I spun my tires,’’ Bowman said. “I tried to get a little low and (Busch) just turned me sideways. I was up against the inside wall. I think (Kenseth) thought he was clear. We didn’t get a terrible restart. It wasn’t the best, but we were going forward until (Busch) hit us. It’s just hard racing toward the end. You’re racing for the win in a Cup race.’’

Busch said he felt bad that his actions contributed to Kenseth, his teammate, not advancing to the championship round. Had Kenseth won, he would have advanced. Instead, Busch got the final spot.

“Right now it feels pretty s‑‑‑ty, but tomorrow it might feel a lot better,’’ Busch said of being in the title race. “I’m not sure, depends on what Matt’s interpretation is and whether or not he can forgive. You know, I just feel really bad about what happened there on that last restart. 

“It just wasn’t what I anticipated having happen, and I just feel bad. (Kenseth) should have been the Gibbs car to go through, and I was just trying to make a position there on (Bowman), felt like I was to his inside and had the position. 

“I was hoping I could get (Bowman) … and force him up and have him kind of block (Joey Logano) and check up the outside row and then I could have a position between me and (Logano) and get myself and (Kenseth) in.’’

Still, Bowman acknowledged that Kenseth might not be too happy with him even though Kenseth never said anything disparaging about Bowman after the race.

“He’s probably really mad at me right now I’d imagine, but hopefully we can move past it and race clean at Homestead,’’ Bowman said.

It will be his final race in the No. 88 with Earnhardt expected back for the start of the next season.

One more chance to drive one of the best cars in the garage.

“There were a lot of guys in the garage that can get the job done and run up front, they just don’t get the opportunity to show it, and I’m just thankful that I was given the opportunity to show it today,’’ said Bowman, whose previous career-best finish was seventh last month at Kansas. ”Our race car was really good all day.  Best car on long runs by far. It was just a lot of fun.’’

Until the end.