FONTANA, Calif. – For drivers in contract years, winning in dominant fashion can certainly cure many ills, and Alex Bowman did just that in Southern California on Sunday afternoon.
Bowman put on a ‘California Clinic’ to win the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, leading 110 of 200 laps at the two-mile oval for his second-career NASCAR Cup Series win and first of the season.
The Tucson, Ariz., native – who is in the final year of his current deal with Hendrick Motorsports – won the first stage, finished second to Ryan Blaney in the second stage and then took control of the race for good with a lap-133 pass of Martin Truex Jr. following a wild restart to open the final stage.
From there, Bowman led 62 of the final 68 laps, only giving up the top spot when he made his final pit stop of the day on the 160th round.
Brad Keselowski stayed out long in hopes of catching a caution, but those hopes faded quickly and six laps later, he finally gave up the ghost and hit pit road, handing Bowman the race lead for good.
It was a performance that proved Bowman’s maiden win from last summer was certainly no fluke.
“The first (win), that was a really enjoyable experience, but then we sucked for six months,” Bowman noted after a celebratory burnout. “We started this year so strong. I feel like I’ve got a lot on my side that I’m doing better. My life is kind of a lot more organized than it was back then, and Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all the guys, they’re just on point. We’ve unloaded (fast) the last two weeks; I don’t think we’ve had a change in the race car from how it came off the truck and that makes my job a heck of a lot easier.
“I’m just so proud of this team. They work their butts off,” Bowman added. “We put a lot of effort into this new car, and it’s obviously working well.”
With a long green-flag run to end the race, Bowman’s one concern was potential tire wear, but that never became a factor until after he burned the tires down on the frontstretch during his victory donuts.
“Greg said save it, so I saved some to use some there,” said Bowman of his tires. “Man, how about that, California? I grew up quarter‑midget racing maybe 20 minutes from here (in) Pomona Valley. I went there every week and made a lot of great friends. I know they’re out here (watching) today.
“This weekend has been a lot of fun. Thanks again to Greg and all the guys,” Bowman continued. “He made good calls all day and we were up front when it counted.”
Blaney won stage two and appeared to be in position to run a strong second behind Bowman, but had to pit with three laps to go for a tire that was coming unraveled.
That left the runner-up spot to Kyle Busch, with his older brother Kurt Busch following in third. Bowman’s teammate, Chase Elliott, finished fourth and Brad Keselowski completed the top five.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Denny Hamlin, hometown hero Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones. Blaney was scored a lap down in 19th after his late pit stop for tires.
Polesitter Clint Bowyer started up front and led the first 10 laps, but was never a factor after that and faded back through the field. A flat tire later caused front splitter damage to his No. 14 Ford, also bringing out the only caution aside from the two stage breaks at laps 60 and 120.
Bowyer ended up 23rd, one lap off the lead pace, at the checkered flag.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues on March 8 with the Fanshield 500 at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway. Kyle Busch is the defending event winner.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.