CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman declined to repeat what Bubba Wallace said to him just before Wallace splashed him with liquid from his drink bottle but Bowman added it was “nothing classy by any means.”
Such was how Bowman “celebrated” a runner-up finish that secured the final transfer spot to the second round of the playoffs.
A day that began with Bowman recovering from an illness and starting in the rear because he was in a backup car also included an incident in the first lap, wrecking Wallace and rallying to keep his title hopes alive.
But it was the incidents with Wallace during and after the race that marked a second consecutive weekend he’s had issues with the Richard Petty Motorsports driver.
Bowman took the blame for the Lap 1 incident on the backstretch chicane when he lost control and hit Wallace’s car, forcing Wallace to also miss the chicane.
“That was just a mistake,” Bowman said after exiting the infield care center for treatment of overheating. “I got flipped off for every single straightaway on the entire race track for three laps. I got flipped off by him for like three or four laps in a row at Richmond, so I’m just over it.”
Bowman retaliated later in Sunday’s race, wrecking Wallace to bring out the caution on Lap 43.
“I’ve got to stand up for myself at some point,” Bowman said. “Probably wouldn’t have gotten wrecked if he had his finger back in the car.
“I’d be mad too, but he put himself in that spot.”
Bowman said his issue was how Wallace repeatedly flipped him off — something Daniel Suarez said angered him when Wallace did the same thing at Pocono in July and led to a pit road disagreement.
“Just don’t flip me off,” Bowman said. “If you do it once, I get it, I ran into you on the first lap, that’s on me, I messed up. Don’t do it three laps in a row every single straightaway.”
Bowman said he later raced with Wallace without incident in the 109-lap race.
But that was just only part of the issues Bowman had this weekend.
Bowman wrecked in the final seconds of final Cup practice Saturday, forcing his Hendrick Motorsports team to go to a backup car and give up its second starting spot. Bowman had to start toward the rear of the 40-car field because he was in the backup car.
Then came the issue on the first lap that required him to pit for new tires. He had to come back down pit road for a pass through penalty since he never stopped in the designated spot after missing the backstretch chicane.
He was last at that point. With temperatures in the 90s Sunday and temperatures inside the car much hotter, Bowman became exhausted.
“Probably Lap 10 of the race I was pretty done and out of it from a physical standpoint,” Bowman said. “Just tried to keep digging.”
Bowman was 12 points out of the final transfer spot when the caution waved on Lap 90 for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s spin. Bowman was running 13th at the time. He pitted and was soon in the top 10 and steadily moved to the front in the final laps.
But Bowman’s struggles were not over. A red flag on Lap 102 left drivers baking in their cars for 8 minutes and 22 seconds.
“I saw them coming with water to all the guys behind me and I was out of water in the car and they didn’t get to me,” Bowman said. “They got to about four cars behind me and they started rolling and I was like ‘Dang it man, I could have used that water.’”
Bowman got through that and climbed to second to finish behind teammate Chase Elliott to give Hendrick Motorsports its second 1-2 finish of the year. The two combined for the other at Talladega Superspeedway, where Elliott won and Bowman was second.
Bowman’s run combined with a failed strategy for Aric Almirola allowed Bowman to beat Almirola by five points for the final transfer spot to the second round.
“You know, nobody tries any harder than Alex does,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “He just didn’t give up. I mean, and he was quick, but he ‑‑ I mean, he just refused to lose today. I thought, ‘Man, if he gets up there to Chase, we might have a problem.’ But no, Alex is committed. He’s a 100% in. Greg (Ives, crew chief), that’s such a good team. I’m excited to see where they’re going to go here in the next round. But he did ‑‑ when you think about where (Bowman) came from and finished second, that was unbelievable. Proud of him.”