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Long: Cup victory marks giant step forward for Alex Bowman

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JOLIET, Ill. — Alex Bowman climbed from his car, which was stuck in the mud, and steadied himself on the door. The next step he took elevated him into a moment of a lifetime.

There on the car’s roof, Bowman stood, a Cup winner for the first time.

As he relished the feeling, the 26-year-old shed the doubt, disrespect and disappointment that has followed him in his career.

“I feel like I’m so used to being disappointed in a way after Cup races and stock car races in general,” Bowman said after winning Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. “My career hasn’t been what I would have hoped it would have been as a kid.”

If you get beat down enough, sometimes it’s hard to truly revel when things go so well. Runner-up Kyle Larson noted how Bowman’s celebration seemed muted.

“Looking at the big screen, he’s like the most unexcited person I’ve ever seen in my life to get his first Cup win,” Larson said.

Larson went to victory lane to congratulate Bowman and told his friend how calm he looked. Bowman said he didn’t know what to do.

“I’m so happy, and I feel like I’m not really showing it because I just don’t really know what to say,” Bowman later said.

Bowman’s voyage to this victory was an odyssey that no one will ever repeat. He was not ordained in the way others have been, their paths to Cup paved with the proper funding and elite rides.

“His story in climbing up through the ranks … is like the workingman’s story,” teammate Jimmie Johnson said.

Nine years ago, Bowman was in an intensive care unit, eyes swollen shut, ribs and collarbones broken after a vicious crash in a midget car. Told he’d be out eight weeks, he returned in half that time.

Bowman was the K&N Pro Series East rookie of the year in 2011, beating Chase Elliott for that honor, and won that same award the next year in the ARCA Series to earn a ride in the Xfinity Series in 2013.

The rise to Cup was quick but the rides were unremarkable. He drove for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, two teams that no longer exist, in 2014-15. He was prepared to run for Baldwin’s team in 2016 until he found out on Twitter less than a month before the Daytona 500 he was no longer with the team.

Bowman ran only nine Xfinity races in 2016 and returned to Cup only after Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the second half of the season because of concussion symptoms. Bowman filled in for Earnhardt for 10 races. When Earnhardt returned in 2017, Bowman ran no Cup races, two Xfinity races (with one win) and one Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. Instead, his time was spent mostly in Chevrolet’s simulator working for Hendrick Motorsports.

When Bowman was selected to take over the No. 88 after Earnhardt’s retirement in 2018, some people thought Bowman was a Cup rookie unaware he had run two full seasons.

“I feel like people question me a lot, and if I deserve to be here or not,” Bowman said. “Just based on the fact that I don’t have a big resume to fall back on. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities throughout my career, but when we went stock car racing, those opportunities got pretty slim.

“Just getting a Cup win is something that kind of relaxes me in the sense that I feel like I can finally say I deserve to be here. But there were definitely some times I was very worried about it. It made going to the race track not a lot of fun. But glad we’re having a lot of fun now.”

Crew chief Greg Ives understands the questions. There were those who wondered about him being paired with Earnhardt in 2015 even though Ives didn’t have experience as a crew chief in Cup.

“Sometimes respect is what you’ve got to go and get, and I think (Bowman) has been capable of doing that,” said Ives, who won three Cup races with Earnhardt in 2015 but none since until Sunday. “I feel like I’ve underperformed a little bit with the cars and been able to over the course of the last month and a half, two months been able to give (Bowman) an opportunity to run up front and show what he’s made of.”

Bowman scored consecutive runner-up finishes at Talladega, Dover and Kansas.

Bowman said the Talladega finish was good since he hadn’t placed better than 11th to that point in the season. The Dover result also felt good after he started at the rear. The Kansas finish was the most disappointing, he admits.

“I’m super bummed on that one,” Bowman said. “My family is from there, and I really wanted to win that race. I was pretty upset with myself, and I got back to the lounge, and one of our engineers, Tim (O’Brien), he’s like, ‘Just wait until Chicago, we’re going to go haul ass there,’ and we were able to do that.”

All four Hendrick Motorsports cars were strong Sunday but Bowman had to take this win from Larson after Larson chased him down and took the lead with eight laps to go. Tired of those runner-up finishes this season, Bowman pursued, pressured and persevered, passing Larson with an aggressive side draft and slight contact with six laps to go.

“The contact was pretty unintentional,” Bowman said. “That was just hard racing, and I think it’s a lot of fun to race Kyle like that.”

And even more fun winning.

“It’s something that,” Bowman said, “that’s all I’ve wanted my whole life.”

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Preliminary Daytona 500 entry list released

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Forty-two cars are on the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 17 Daytona 500.

NASCAR released the entry list Wednesday night.

Among those on the entry list are: Casey Mears (No. 27, Germain Racing), Reigning Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick (No. 31, Richard Childress Racing), Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 Beard Motorsports), Joey Gase (No. 66, Motorsports Business Management), Ryan Truex (No. 71, Tommy Baldwin Racing) and NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman (No. 96, Gaunt Brothers Racing).

Click here for Daytona 500 entry list

MORE: Full Daytona Speedweeks schedule 

Ryan Truex to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing at Daytona

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Ryan Truex will attempt to make the Daytona 500 driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, the team announced Wednesday.

The team does not have a charter for the No. 71 Chevrolet.

“I am very thankful to TBR and Tommy Baldwin for this opportunity and can’t wait to get to Daytona and back in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car,” Ryan Truex said in a statement from the team. “The pressure is on to make it into the race, but Tommy is a true racer, and I know he will put everything into the car to give us a great shot.”

“I’m excited to have Ryan back in a Tommy Baldwin Racing car,” team owner Tommy Baldwin said in a statement. “We had success at Daytona in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, in the past. I’ve known the Truex family a very long time, and it’s special that we’ll be able to compete in the Daytona 500 together, and hopefully more races as the year goes on. We are still in search of a primary sponsor that we’re hoping to put together in time to give TBR a great run this year!”

Truex, the younger brother of Martin Truex Jr., last ran in Cup in 2014 when he competed in 23 races for BK Racing. Truex ran for Kaulig Racing last year in the Xfinity Series, finishing 12th in the points. Truex drove for Hattori Racing in 2017 in the Truck Series, placing ninth in points.

Tommy Baldwin Racing to field a car in select Cup races in 2019

Tommy Baldwin Racing
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Tommy Baldwin Racing announced Monday that it will return to field a single car in select Cup races in 2019, beginning with the Daytona 500.

Tommy Baldwin Racing debuted in 2009. The team sold its charter to Leavine Family Racing and ceased operations in November 2016. Premium Motorsports completed its purchase of Tommy Baldwin Racing’s assets in September 2017.

“We are looking forward to get back going again with TBR in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series,” team owner Tommy Baldwin said in a statement. “Our goal is to work methodically and build it one piece at a time. I’m excited about these five to seven races for the 2019 season, and where it takes us in the future.”

The team’s release had no details on driver, sponsor or car number.

Friday 5: Silly season, charter sales and track news

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Not since 2009 have two former Cup champions switched teams — but might that take place for next season?

With 12 races left this year, former champions and free agents Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch have not stated where they will race in 2019.

Truex has won 20 percent of the Cup races since last season, finished in the top five 56.7 percent of the time and scored a top 10 in more than two-thirds of those races.

It would seem natural that the 38-year-old reigning Cup champion will stay with Furniture Row Racing, but everything changed when 5-hour Energy announced July 18 it would end its involvement in NASCAR after this season. 5-hour Energy became a co-primary sponsor for 30 Cup races this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats.

Two weeks ago at Bristol, Truex couldn’t give a number when asked to estimate a percentage of remaining with the team after this season.

“Right now, we need sponsorship,” Truex said then. “That’s as simple as it gets.”

Busch, 40, signed a one-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing in December, after Monster Energy decided to return as a team sponsor. Busch, the 2004 Cup champ, has said he’s talked to multiple teams about a ride for next year.

Busch won two weeks ago at Bristol to assure a playoff spot. He has four top-five finishes and 15 top-10 results this season — nearly bettering what he did last season for SHR.

The last time two drivers with Cup championships switched teams for the same season was 2009 when Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte changed teams.

Stewart, a two-time champion at the time, went from Joe Gibbs Racing to Haas CNC Racing, which was renamed Stewart-Haas Racing. He won his third title in 2011 for that organization. Labonte, who won the 2000 crown, moved from Petty Enterprises to Hall of Fame Racing in 2009.

2. Boom or Bust?

When a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of BK Racing — and its charter — to Front Row Motorsports last week, it marked the ninth time that a charter has been sold since the system was created before the start of the 2016 season.

One charter has been sold twice in that period, meaning eight separate charters (22.2 percent) have been sold in less than three years. Many more have been leased. Teams can lease a charter once in five years.

The charter system debuted in February 2016 after about 18 months of discussions between NASCAR and team owners. NASCAR announced there would be 36 charters, guaranteeing each holder a starting spot in each race. The charter system also guarantees a set amount of income that isn’t solely based on a team’s finishing position in a race. Performance the past three years, a fixed amount per race and year-end point fund money also are factored.

The point was that teams could better budget what they would receive during the season and have a better idea of how much sponsorship they needed.

Also, the charter system was billed as a way to provide greater value to teams and led to the creation of a Team Owners Council, similar to what Cup drivers have. The Team Owners Council since has played a key role in the discussion of rule changes.

The money paid for charters has been kept quiet. Court documents from BK Racing’s bankruptcy case state that BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million in December 2016.

The bankruptcy court approved Front Row Motorsports’ purchase of BK Racing for $2.08 million. That included the charter, cars, equipment and other assets, meaning the charter sold for less than the one BK Racing sold in December 2016.

The bankruptcy court approved the bidding process for the BK Racing sale. A price of $1.8 million from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing, was set as the minimum bid for the charter and certain assets. At the auction, Front Row Motorsports was the only bidder and topped Beam’s total.

Less than three years into the charter system, the movement of charters shows the difficulties with owning a team. The hope was that it would lead to a way for new investors to join the sport — and it could happen in the future.

But it takes more than a charter. There is all the equipment that must be purchased, personnel hired and the need for an alliance to have any hope of being competitive. Then there’s the sponsorship that a team needs to secure. That’s even a big jump for an Xfinity team to make if it wants to move to Cup.

With all that, it’s not surprising at this point that the charters have been passed among those that already own teams.

Here are the charters that have been sold since the charter system was created:

2016 season — Michael Waltrip Racing sold a charter to Stewart-Haas Racing for the No. 41 car.

2016 — Michael Waltrip Racing sold a charter to Joe Gibbs Racing for the No. 19 car.

2017 season — Premium Motorsports sold a charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car.

2017 — BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million, according to court documents.

2017 — HScott Motorsports sold a charter to Premium Motorsports for the No. 15 car.

2017 — Tommy Baldwin Racing sold a charter to Leavine Family Racing for the No. 95 car.

2018 season — Furniture Row Racing sold the No. 77 car’s charter to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car.

2018 — Roush Fenway Racing sold a charter to Team Penske for the No. 12 car.

2018 — BK Racing charter sold in bankruptcy court to Front Row Motorsports for $2.08 million, including various assets.

3. Track News – Rockingham

The Richmond County Daily Journal reported that Rockingham Properties, LLC was expected to finalize paperwork Thursday on the purchase of Rockingham Speedway.

The paper did not list a price but stated that county tax administrator Vagas Jackson said the property was valued at $2,993,324. The paper reported that Dan Lovenheim, who owns restaurants and bars in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, is the majority owner of Rockingham Properties LLC.

Lovenheim did not provide the paper with plans for the track only to say they are “remarkably encompassing.”

4. Track News – Lucas Oil Raceway

The Indianapolis Star reported Thursday that Lucas Oil Raceway, which includes the drag strip that will host the upcoming U.S. Nationals, a road course and an oval track where the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series used to race, is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation.

The first phase is focused on the drag strip.

Future plans call for improvements to the 0.686-mile oval so that it can host more stock car races.

“I think it’s no secret that we’d like to see other forms of stock car racing, be it different forms of NASCAR racing that come back out here,” Kasey Coler, the track’s general manager, told the newspaper. “That’s long term what we’d like to see.”

5. Did you know …

Darlington Raceway is Ryan Newman’s best track based on average finish. He has an average finish of 11.68 there. His next best track is Rockingham. He had an average finish of 12.4 there.

Since 2009, Newman and Denny Hamlin have the most top-10 finishes at Darlington Raceway with seven each. Next are Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. with six each.

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