Bowman Wins First Sprint Cup Pole

Alex Bowman on pole
Alex Bowman on pole
All Photos – Ralph Garcia/AR1.com

Alex Bowman raced to his first-career Sprint Cup pole in Friday's qualifying sessions for Sunday's Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in the final race of the Round of 8.

Making his eighth series start in place of the ailing Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the 23-year old Arizona native clocked in with a lap of 140.521 mph to claim his first pole in his 80th series start, eclipsing his previous best of seventh at Kansas earlier this year.

NASCAR's new youth movement was in full display in Friday's sessions, as Bowman, 24-year old Kyle Larson and 20-year old rookie Chase Elliott captured the top three positions.

Joey Logan and Denny Hamlin – two of the six drivers vying for the final two spot to advance to the final round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup – rounded out the top five.

Bowman surprised many with his pole-winning effort – including himself – after making it through the first round in fourth and then getting to through the second round in seventh before grabbing the top qualifying spot on his second lap in the final session.

"Man, it's amazing," said Bowman. "We weren't really that strong in qualifying trim in practice. I don't really know where that came from, but I just can't thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports enough.

"To do this in Phoenix, so close to home, means so much to me. We have had such fast racecars we haven't had an ounce of luck, but to get a pole here means a lot."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] Bowman grew up in nearby Tucson, Arizona and used to race quart-midgets at PIR before making his way east to try his hand at NASCAR.

"My whole family still lives out here. I'm the only one that moved to North Carolina," said Bowman. "I convinced Joe Custer from Stewart-Haas Racing to let me live with him when I was 16.

"To be honest, I probably watched more Copper World Classic between sprint cars and quarter-midgets, Silver Crown races and Super Modifides and stuff that was super-insane around this place. So that was always really cool as a kid. One of my fondest memories is that I got to race in the last midget race they had here. It's always been a place that's been close to my heart."

Bowman is scheduled to start in next weekend's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but after that, his future is uncertain.

Bowman had made 70-career Sprint Cup starts prior to this season, including stints with BK Racing in 2014 and Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2015, but started the year without a full-time ride until Hendrick Motorsports called on him to fill in after Earnhardt, Jr. became sidelined with concussion symptoms in July.

Since taking over the no. 88 ride from Earnhardt, Jr., Bowman has done his best to showcase his skills to potential employers – like Hendrick – who would be willing to give him another shot in the Sprint Cup Series.

Bowman at Speed

"If you would have asked me at any point in the last year if I would have a Cup pole in my career, I would have told you were crazy. So I'm very thankful to get this opportunity… obviously not under the circumstances that anyone would want. But I'm trying to make the most of it and having a lot of fun.

"I'm still waiting for the right opportunity to come along (for 2017). There's nothing that has really fit that has come along. I'll still probably have my day job at Hendrick Motorsports driving the simulator. We'll go from there."

Championship contender Kevin Harvick -who leads all active drivers in wins at Phoenix with eight – starts in the sixth position on Sunday, followed by Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray and fellow Chase contender Matt Kenseth.

Other Chase drivers include Carl Edwards in 11 and Kurt Busch in 12th. Jimmy Johnson and Kyle Busch qualified 17th and 19th, respectively. Johnson and Edwards are already locked into the Final 4 by virtue of their victories in Martinsville and Texas.

Harvick, who is just above Kurt Busch in the bottom half of the standings, will likely need a win to advance to the final four, as just two spots remain up for grabs to move onto the championship finale.

"Everybody is basically in the same position that we are," said Harvick. "If somebody wins, there is only going to be one points guy that goes through. So you need to pretend that you are in a must win situation if you plan on going to Homestead because there is probably going to be somebody in those eight that do win. And you will have to win again next week to win the championship. So it's just kind of the nature of the beast at this time, especially with two different winners already.

"Anything can happen and we just have to control the things that we can control and try and put ourselves in position to where we usually do and see where it all falls."

Martin Truex, Jr., who crashes his primary car in Friday's practice session, was unable to get his backup car through technical inspection in order to make a qualifying lap and will start Sunday's race in the back of the field in 40th position.

ALEX BOWMAN, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER

FIRST CAREER POLE, YOU DO IT IN YOUR HOMETOWN HOW DOES IT FEEL?
"Man, it's amazing. We weren't really that strong in qualifying trim in practice. I don't really know where that came from, but I just can't thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports enough. To do this in Phoenix, so close to home, means so much to me. We have had such fast racecars we haven't had an ounce of luck, but to get a pole here means a lot."

WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRACTICE THIS MORNING AND QUALIFYING?
"I guess the sun going down probably helped us a little bit. Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all these guys are so smart. They make such great, methodical changes all day. Everybody on this Nationwide team does an amazing job, so I've got to thank the Hendrick horsepower under the hood it was pulling strong for sure and just everybody on this team does awesome."

HOW DID YOU PULL THAT OFF?
"I'm not quite sure I guess Hendrick horsepower, great guys at Hendrick Motorsports, got to thank Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all the guys. A lot of help from this guy standing next to me, Dale, Jr. and just really thankful to be here, especially to get a pole in Phoenix, so close to home, it means a lot to me."

HE CLAIMS HE IS NO HELP WHEN IT COMES TO QUALIFYING THAT CAN'T BE TRUE:

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: "Well, I'm not very good at qualifying, so he has been in the car and he has really helped our team get better on the qualifying front, as well as in the racing also. I'm not that great of a qualifier, so this is good for the team, good for Greg and the guys, great for Alex. Alex has really helped our program. Jeff (Gordon) helped it a lot, but Alex has been a great treat for the guys to work with and obviously he is a great driver."

YOU SAID HE WAS SMOOTH AND SMART:

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: "He sure is. This is his hometown, kind of, so it's awesome that all his friends are around to see him do this. This is great for his career, this is exactly what we were hoping to happen for him. Hopefully, he can put it together on Sunday."

HOW WAS GETTING A PHONE CALL FROM MR. HENDRICK?
"It's great. To get to drive for Hendrick Motorsports has been such a blessing and just really thankful to have Nationwide Insurance on board. We've got Dalton, our Nationwide patient champion on the door of the car, really excited about that. Just very thankful to be here."

Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson

KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED SECOND

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH THAT LAP OF YOURS? YOU CAME PRETTY DARN CLOSE TO POLE.

“I guess there’s a couple of things I could have done differently. I thought I missed my marks into Turn One. I was up a groove. But then I got down the backstretch really good and actually hit the rev limiter going into Turn Three, so that surprised me. I didn’t get wide open soon enough off Turn Four, which probably hurt my speed more than anything. It was close getting the pole.

“It was cool for Alex Bowman to get it. He grew up not too far from here and doesn’t have a full-time deal. So for him to do that is pretty big. I definitely would have liked to have been on the pole but we’ll take a front-row start."

HOW BIG WOULD IT BE TO PLAY THE ROLE OF SPOILER ON SUNDAY AND WIN WHEN ONE OF THESE CHASE GUYS DIDN’T?

“It would be big for anyone to win. Phoenix the last year-and-a-half hasn’t been a good track for me, for whatever reason. I don’t think I’ve ever really raced that good here. We’ll have some work to do. I didn’t think our car in race trim was very good today. But we have some smart people in our hauler that will fix it up and hopefully we’ll get some speed. I always struggle here going fast, taking care of my tires, taking care of the brakes. I just have to focus on hitting my marks and staying smooth and steady."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE GOTTEN BETTER AT THAT AT THESE TYPES OF TRACKS?

“I feel like I’ve gotten a little better. But for some reason I still feel like a struggle with it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Like at Martinsville, I can go fast for 10 laps and then I start slowing down in the center of the corner, try taking care of my tires and still get beat at the end of the run. So then I’ll do another run where I don’t go as hard at the beginning and still go just as slow at the end. I don’t know what I have to do to do better at that. Maybe it’s how I communicate in practice on setup stuff that will help. I constantly try to work at it when we come to short tracks. I feel like I’ve gotten better but have work to do."

WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOU AND YOUR TEAM HAVE PROGRESSED MOST THIS SEASON? WITH TWO RACES LEFT THIS YEAR AND INTO NEXT SEASON, WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU ARE ON THE AGENDA TO GET BETTER AT TO BE IN A BETTER POSITION THIS TIME NEXT YEAR?

“We were so bad to start the year that I felt like our gains were extremely noticeable throughout the first third of the year. Then up until I won at Michigan and a little bit after, I feel like we haven’t gained as much each week as we did earlier in the year. You always try to get better. We’ve made gains but they haven’t been as big of gains because we’re closer to where we need to be. Every time we come down to the end of year we’re trying stuff. I think we’ve had some decent runs. We haven’t had a whole lot of luck in the last eight races that we’ve run, but we’ve continued to stay positive, work hard and try to make our stuff faster to build the notebook for the offseason and start of next season."

DO YOU THINK TRAFFIC WILL BE A FACTOR IN THE RACE?

“It’s always hard to pass here, so the further up front you start is good. This is as far forward as I’ve ever started here. It would be nice to get to the lead at the beginning, lead some laps, take care of my stuff and maintain track position which will help the race. It’s a pretty quick race so you can’t make too many mistakes. You have to make the right pit calls. Track position is always important here."

WHEN THE SERIES COMES BACK TO PHOENIX, THERE IS ALWAYS TALK ABOUT THE RYAN NEWMAN SITUATION FROM A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO ON THE LAST LAP AND IT WAS YOUR ROOKIE YEAR. AS YOU’VE GAINED MORE EXPERIENCE, HOW WISER ARE YOU ABOUT THOSE SITUATIONS? YOU’RE ALSO RACING FOR CERTAIN THINGS AS WELL.

“I was mad and upset for a few minutes but then you realize what was at stake for them. I’m not saying that’s right. But there’s a lot on the line for those contenders. So I don’t know what’s right or wrong, but there’s obviously a lot on the line. Sometimes they have to do what they have to do to gain as many points as they can or get a win."

Lineup

Pos # Driver Manufacturer Sponsor Speed Time Behind
1 88 Alex Bowman Chevrolet Nationwide 140.521 25.619 Leader
2 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Target 140.263 25.666 0.047
3 24 Chase Elliott Chevrolet SunEnergy1 140.236 25.671 0.052
4 22 Joey Logano Ford Shell Pennzoil 140.138 25.689 0.07
5 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Ground 140.072 25.701 0.082
6 4 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Jimmy John's Chevrolet SS 139.98 25.718 0.099
7 3 Austin Dillon Chevrolet American Ethanol 139.708 25.768 0.149
8 21 Ryan Blaney Ford SKF 139.638 25.781 0.162
9 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Sherwin Williams 139.486 25.809 0.19
10 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota Dollar General 139.427 25.82 0.201
11 19 Carl Edwards Toyota Stanley 139.303 25.843 0.224
12 41 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Monster Energy / Haas Automaton Chevrolet SS 139.179 25.866 0.247
13 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Farmers Insurance 139.249 25.853 0.234
14 2 Brad Keselowski Ford Miller Lite 139.238 25.855 0.236
15 31 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Cat Minestar 139.222 25.858 0.239
16 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet Nature's Bakery Chevrolet SS 139.217 25.859 0.24
17 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Kobalt 139.19 25.864 0.245
18 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevrolet Fry's/Clorox 138.969 25.905 0.286
19 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's Core 138.878 25.922 0.303
20 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Rustoleum / Menards 138.723 25.951 0.332
21 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Ford Roush Performance Ford Fusion 138.696 25.956 0.337
22 13 Casey Mears Chevrolet GEICO Military 138.122 26.064 0.445
23 6 Trevor Bayne Ford Advocare Ford Fusion 137.836 26.118 0.499
24 16 Greg Biffle Ford Performance Plus Ford Fusion 137.431 26.195 0.576
25 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS 137.825 26.12 0.501
26 95 Michael McDowell Chevrolet ON Semiconductors / Malwarebytes 137.641 26.155 0.536
27 43 Aric Almirola Ford USAF 137.636 26.156 0.537
28 38 Landon Cassill Ford MDS Transport 137.169 26.245 0.626
29 7 Regan Smith Chevrolet Nikko RC / Toy State Chevrolet 136.965 26.284 0.665
30 34 Chris Buescher Ford Dockside Logistics 136.898 26.297 0.678
31 23 David Ragan Toyota Dr. Pepper 136.457 26.382 0.763
32 83 Matt DiBenedetto Toyota JAS Expedited Trucking 136.322 26.408 0.789
33 44 Brian Scott Ford Safeway Ford 136.157 26.44 0.821
34 15 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 5-Hour Energy 136.132 26.445 0.826
35 32 Jeffrey Earnhardt Ford Can-Am / Kappa 135.298 26.608 0.989
36 46 Michael Annett Chevrolet Pilot Flying J 135.191 26.629 1.01
37 30 Gray Gaulding Chevrolet Feed The Children 134.837 26.699 1.08
38 98 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet Speed Stick Chevy 132.949 27.078 1.459
39 55 D.J. Kennington Chevrolet Northern Provincial Pipelines 132.616 27.146 1.527
40 78 Martin Truex Jr Toyota Furniture Row / Denver Mattress 0 0 -25.619

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