Alex Bowman leads Hendrick cars with career-best finish at Pocono

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After finishing a career-best third Sunday at Pocono Raceway, Alex Bowman got a special message.

Car owner Rick Hendrick got on the radio to Bowman and the team.

“Great job guys,” Hendrick said. “That’s an outstanding deal today. Way to work that deal. Good man.”

“I appreciate it boss,” Bowman replied. “We’re definitely headed in the right direction. It feels really good.”

Bowman led a surging Hendrick Motorsports Sunday. Rookie William Byron placed a career-best sixth, Chase Elliott won the opening stage and finished seventh, and Jimmie Johnson was 17th. This marked the first time this season that Hendrick has had more than two cars in the top 10.

“It’s proof that we’re improving each and every week and continually getting better,” said Bowman, whose previous career-best finish was fifth at Bristol in April. “Obviously we’re not doing it as quickly as we want to, but days like today make all the hard work for the guys back at the shop, the engine shop, the chassis shop, body shop, the whole road crew … make it worth it. Very glad, especially considering how bad we were when we started the weekend and how bad we qualified.”

Bowman said the organization was looking forward to this race.

“We kind of had Pocono circled as a place that we thought we had pretty good race cars, and (teammate Chase Elliott) was really good, especially last race,” Bowman said. “We knew we were going to be pretty strong here.”

Bowman’s performance also helped him stretch his lead for what would be the final playoff spot. He leads Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard by 56 points each.

“It was great to have a good points day, but not trying to watch it too much, just trying to do the best job I can … each and every week,” Bowman said. “If we maximize each and every week, hopefully they won’t catch us in points, and we’ll go from there.”

Byron will need to win a race to make the playoffs, but he left Pocono pleased.

“There are a lot of big positives,” said Byron, whose previous career-best finish was 10th at Texas in April. “I feel there are a couple of things we could have worked on and we’ll keep working on those things. Our cars are just getting faster. Now we have the speed to run in the top 10, which makes it a lot easier to do things and allows us to be more aggressive and allows me to drive the car the way I know how to drive it. I feel like our speed is just starting to get us in a position to be more aggressive, which is really good.”

Where is the speed coming from for the Hendrick cars?

“I think a little bit of everything,” Elliott said after his 10th top-10 finish of the season. “I don’t even know why some race tracks seem to be more suitable for what we have, and some don’t. We think we’re better as a whole, but I think we still have some work to do.”