On the brink. Oh, so close.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman has heard the words and lived the sentiment.
The 26-year old driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has finished runner-up in the last three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season races and is “ready” to win doesn’t even begin to describe the emotion he brings to Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Bowman is the first driver in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present) to finish second in three consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races before having earned his first career series win.
And what’s especially impressive about Bowman’s feat is that he has done it at three widely-different venues – from the Talladega Superspeedway 2.66-mile high banks, to the challenging Dover International Speedway’s one-mile concrete oval to the Kansas Speedway 1.5-miler just before last week’s All-Star break. And the Margin of Victory in each? Equally as different – from a caution flag finish at Talladega to a 9.5-second Martin Truex Jr. runaway win at Dover to a scant 0.205-second near-miss at Kansas.
“I’m really proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, our race cars are so much better than what we started the year with,” Bowman said, after his Kansas Speedway thriller. “I’m really appreciative.
“I wish we were standing here with three wins in a row and things had gone differently and that be the case, but we’ll keep digging.”
In the Modern Era (1972-Present) drivers have finished runner-up in three consecutive races before – 14 times. The last was Kyle Larson in 2017 when he was second at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix. NASCAR Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip (1978 and 1983) and Jeff Gordon (1998 and 1999) are the only to accomplish the mark in multiple seasons.
Waltrip (1983), Mark Martin (1998) along with Harry Gant (1985) scored four consecutive runner-up finishes.
Waltrip’s string of seconds in 1983 happened at Nashville, Tenn., Pocono, Pa., Talladega, Ala., and Michigan and then he put an exclamation mark on the run with a win the next week at Bristol, Tenn.
Gant was second place four times (at Dover, Charlotte, Riverside and Pocono) and Martin was runner-up in four straight races in 1998 (at New Hampshire, Pocono, Indianapolis, and Watkins Glen). As with Bowman, Martin’s mark was especially impressive considering the variety of venues – from the New Hampshire one-miler to 2.5-mile tracks in Pocono and Indy and then the Watkins Glen road course.
NASCAR’s all-time winningest driver Richard Petty’s work in the 1975 season was especially impressive too. He bookended his three straight second-place finishes with wins. … and more second-place finishes. He won the summer race at Daytona, had three straight second-place showings at Nashville, Pocono, Talladega and then won at Michigan, was a runner-up at Darlington and won back-to-back events at Dover and North Wilkesboro – eight races in a row where he finished first or second.
That’s the high end of some positive precedent for Bowman.
Three of the 12 drivers to previously score three straight runner-up finishes – earned victories in the next race. Along with Petty, Jeff Gordon capped his second place showings with a trophy. He was runner-up at Dover, Michigan and Pocono then went on to win the next race on the Sonoma road course from the pole position.
Kyle Larson similarly capped a three-race runner-up streak with a win from the pole position. Larson finished runner-up at Atlanta, Las Vegas and ISM Raceway then closed out the 2017 Western Swing with a victory at Auto Club Speedway. In all Larson scored eight runner-up finishes and four wins that season.
Although understandably disappointed – even frustrated – to be so close to that career-defining first victory, Bowman has handled the situation well. He’s 12th in the championship standings and his 86 laps out front have all come in the last three races. Plus, he was a career-best ninth in the Coca-Cola 600 last year.
“It’s absolutely a good day for everyone at Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman said after climbing out of the car in Kansas. “We all had really competitive cars and we really appreciate everyone’s hard work to continue to build our cars and continue to get better like we have.
“It was a really good day. My family is from here, so it would have been pretty cool. Probably the two closest times I have been to winning was my hometown and my dad’s hometown, so it’s just frustrating.
“We will get one soon.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!