CONCORD, N.C. – Alex Bowman made a statement on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway by storming to his first NASCAR XFINITY Series victory during the Drive for the Cure 300.
The victory for Bowman, who has been tabbed by Hendrick Motorsports to take over for the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2018, is the first of his career across NASCAR’s three national divisions.
Deeper in the field, Ryan Reed bested Brendan Gaughan by one point to claim the final position in the second round of the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs.
Bowman, who was making his first NASCAR XFINITY Series start of the year aboard the No. 42 Chevrolet fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, ran near the front of the field all night but found himself chasing the Toyota entries of Daniel Suarez of Erik Jones throughout the night.
Jones and Suarez swapped victories in the first two stages of the race, but bad luck would eventually strike both drivers during the final stage of the race. On lap 121 Jones spun out of turn two and made contact with the inside wall to bring out the caution flag, ending his shot at victory.
Meanwhile, Suarez was at the front of the field and led the field down pit road. He lost the lead during that cycle of stops as Ryan Blaney got off pit road first. Racing resumed on lap 127 with Blaney holding the lead, but the caution waved again on lap 141 when the penalty board that was hanging under the flag stand fell onto the track.
Several teams opted to pit during the caution period, but most of the leaders stayed out with Blaney leading Suarez, Sam Hornish Jr., Austin Dillon and Bowman back to the green flag on lap 148.
Blaney held the lead again on the restart with Suarez hanging on to second. It wasn’t long before the caution flag waved yet again, this time for fluid dropped from the car of Joey Gase after a part failure.
This time under caution all the leaders hit pit road, with Blaney beating Dillon, Hornish and Bowman out of the pits. Disaster struck for Suarez during his stop as an air hose got caught behind the right-rear wheel, leading to a lengthy stop that dropped him to the rear of the field.
Six cars didn’t pit during the caution period after pitting during the previous caution, shuffling the deck at the front of the field. William Byron was now the leader, followed by Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon, Jeremy Clements, Michael Annett and Harrison Rhodes. Blaney lined up seventh, followed by Austin Dillon, Hornish and Bowman.
The race resumed with 34 laps left and Bowman took full advantage of the restart, rocketing around the outside to quickly become the lead car of those that took four tires during the caution. He made quick work of the cars that stayed out, dispatching Byron to take the race lead with 32 laps left.
Once out front Bowman quickly pulled away and was never seriously challenged en route to his first XFINITY Series victory.
“I kept thinking the caution was going to come out,” Bowman said. “I just can’t thank Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and Chip Ganassi for letting me drive this car. It means so much.
“To get my first win here in my second home of Charlotte means so much,” Bowman continued. “It’s been a long time since I’ve raced. I was terrible on pit stops. I didn’t do a good job on pit road. I felt like my pit stops were really good. It feels amazing to finally get us one.”
While Bowman was celebrating in victory lane, Reed was breathing easier after beating Gaughan by one point to advance to the second round of the XFINITY Series playoffs. Reed finished one position behind Gaughan, but had built up enough points in the previous two races to beat Gaughan for the last spot in the round of eight by a single point.
“I told him (Gaughan) right after the race there thanks for racing me clean because he restarted right on my bumper quite a few times and could have ended our night early and went on his way. That was so fun,” Reed said. “An up and down night for sure and we’re going to have to find more speed going into the round of eight.”
In addition to Gaughan, Clements, Annett and Blake Koch were also eliminated from the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs on Saturday evening.
With just four races left in the season there are now just eight drivers remaining in the battle for the championship. Byron will be the points leader to kick off the second round of the playoffs. He’ll be joined by Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Brennan Poole, Matt Tifft and Reed in the second round of the playoffs.
The race was started in the evening after a near five hour delay caused by persistant rain storms. The race was scheduled to begin shortly after 3 p.m. EST, but didn’t start until just past 8:30 p.m.
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