Alex Bowman Scores First Xfinity Series Victory
After sitting on the sidelines for nearly a year, Alex Bowman made the most out of his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start of the season and walked out of Charlotte Motor Speedway with his first-career series victory with a win in Saturday night's rain-delayed Drive for the Cure 300.
Bowman passed William Byron with 32 laps to go and led the rest of the way, beating out Sam Hornish, Jr. by 1.4 seconds in his Chip Ganassi Racing-owned no. 42 Chevrolet for his first victory in his 51st series start.
Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Brennan Poole rounded out the top five in the last race of the Round of 12 in the Xfinity Series playoffs.
Bowman, who hasn't turned a lap in the Xfinity Series since last season's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, received a celebratory phone call from his future car owner Rick Hendrick as he pulled into Victory Lane.
"It feels amazing to finally get us one. It's a dream come true," said Bowman. "I've got to thank Mr. Hendrick and Chip (Ganassi) and everybody that made this possible. To come here and be as competitive as we were, I was really pleased.
It certainly has been a week of firsts for Bowman.
Just Thursday night, he was on hand along with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to unveil the paint scheme for Bowman's new no. 88 Cup Series ride that he'll inherit next season following Earnhardt's retirement.
Since finishing the season finale at Homestead in both the Cup and Xfinity Series, Bowman has made just a single start this season – a sixth-place finish in the Truck Series race at Atlanta back in March.
"It's been a long time since I've raced," said Bowman. "I was terrible on pit stops. I didn't do a good job on pit road but I felt like our restarts were pretty good."
Saturday night's race marked the final race in the opening three-race Round of 12 for the Xfinity Series playoffs, with four drivers facing elimination going into the next round.
Brendan Gaughan entered this weekend's race with a two-point deficit to Ryan Reed for the eighth and final transfer spot to the Round of 8 while Michael Annett trailed Gaughan by five points.
Following a nearly five-hour rain delay, the green flag waved just after 8 pm with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones leading the charge – combining to lead 118 of the 200 lap distance and winning the first and second 45-lap stages.
As the race enter the final stage, both Suarez and Jones saw their chances to win the race slip through their fingers – Jones with a spin in turn two on lap 122 and Suarez with a slow pit stop with 38 laps to go.
With the two JGR cars out of contention, Blaney and William Byron stepped up and led the field through the final rounds of pit stops.
Looking to hold on to their tenuous position in the playoff standings, Gaughan and his crew saved their last set of tires for the final pit stop and began clicking off positions hoping to stay ahead of Reed for the final playoff spot.
Gaughan managed to track down Reed and make the pass to pull to within one point of the final transfer spot, but couldn't reel in Elliott Sadler to earn one more position and ended up falling short by a single point.
"There's a reason we're close in points because we've been close all year on the racetrack," said Gaughan, who shook Reed's hand on pit road following the race. "It was a good run, we had a decent season, I wouldn't say great, but we're going to go on and see if we can't win some races."
Annett, meanwhile, also gambled on tire strategy late in the race but also fell short after spinning out with 34 laps and ended up finishing 27th.
Jeremy Clements was also eliminated as was Blake Koch, who had to manhandle his car for almost the entire race after his power steering pump went out on lap 15.
Byron takes over the points lead as the series head in the next round in two weeks at Kansas Speedway. Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Sadler, Poole, Matt Tifft and Reed all advanced to the second round.
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