Coming off a historic win last Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600, Hendrick Motorsports looks to continue their run of dominance this weekend on the road course at Sonoma Raceway.
Alex Bowman finished fifth last Sunday in a race where his teammates finished first (Kyle Larson), second (Chase Elliott) and fourth (William Byron).
During a Thursday media teleconference, Bowman’s crew chief, Greg Ives, indicated he wasn’t altogether content with the result.
When asked if he could predict what could happen in the remaining road course races this regular season, Ives replied that while he couldn’t foresee “unfortunate circumstances,” he felt his organization has what it takes to earn more success.
He then continued: “We have a great team of drivers that lean on each other to extract speed and you never want to be the fourth guy at the company crossing the finish line. And we were that at the 600. Even though it was fifth, we didn’t feel too good about it. That little self-driven determination is sometimes worth more time than an adjustment on a race car.”
But if that’s a sign of a growing intra-team competition within HMS, Bowman himself insisted Friday that it’s a healthy one.
“Your teammates are kind of your benchmark sometimes and you always want to beat those guys,” he said in his own media teleconference. “You see that in really any type of motorsports. It’s really the only sport where you’re going directly against your teammates sometimes. Always want to run the best we can and beat everybody, right?
“…I think the [intra]-team competition is really friendly, especially at this point in the year. It’s only pushing us all to be better. It’s not like, a tearing each other down, type of competition. We’re racing each other for wins and the four teams are definitely pushing each other to get faster and faster.”
Through 15 races, Bowman and Larson lead HMS with two wins apiece. Reigning Cup champion Elliott and Byron have one win apiece.
However, Bowman is last among HMS drivers in top five (four), top 10 (seven), and average finish (16.1). He’s also trailing his teammates in average running position (14.4) and stage points (81).
But Bowman has picked up the pace lately. He enters Sonoma on a streak of three finishes of eighth or better.
Additionally, he’s posted four top-10 finishes in his last five road course races, including a 10th and an eighth this year at the Daytona road course and Circuit of the Americas, respectively.
That makes him one of four drivers with top 10s in both road course races in 2021 (Joey Logano, A.J. Allmendinger, Michael McDowell).
Bowman has also capitalized on the strong work of Ives and his pit crew. The No. 48 crew is the fastest in Cup based on average four-tire stop times, posting an average of 13.64 seconds.
Their 12.178-second stop at Dover in May directly led to Bowman picking up his second win of the season. According to Racing Insights, they had a 12.34-second stop (Lap 301) in last week’s Coca-Cola 600 to help Bowman on his way to finishing fifth.
Bowman is counting on them again to help him move from seventh on Sunday’s starting grid and have a smoother time than his most recent visit to Sonoma in 2019, where he finished 14th in the race (last year’s Sonoma Cup race was re-aligned due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
“The last time we were there, we were really fast in practice,” Bowman recalled. “I drove off the race track, like around, in qualifying and kind of ended up 12th. And then during the race, we had a power steering failure.
“I’m excited to get back there, because I feel like that’s a road course that I can be really fast at and try to get Hendrick Motorsports another win.”