Auto Club 400 Sunday Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winner of the Auto Club 400, Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 88 Cincinnati Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, along with crew chief Greg Ives. Congratulations, gentlemen. Alex, can you tell us a little bit about your run? You had a pretty strong afternoon.
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, for sure. I don't know that we've changed anything since we unloaded off the truck, so that really comes down to a lot of great preparation in the shop, Greg making really good decisions with our package that we brought here this year. This is a place we've struggled at for the last two years, so for him to be able to unload that close, really the last two weeks in a row, makes my job much easier. We can really fine tune the car throughout practice instead of having to make huge changes. It's really been our probably best couple practices the last two years that I've been driving for HMS, and I just attribute that to the hard work in the shop and great work over the off‑season.
Today was good for us. I feel like if I got bad restarts, I was really ‑‑ I would burn my stuff up getting back to the 12, so I was glad to get clear of him there that last restart and just be able to run hard and build that gap. Felt like we fell off a little bit at the end of runs, but had a really good car.
Q: Ran into you on Friday, Alex, and you said if you don't screw it up, you would get to Victory Lane. You kind of called your shot.
Obviously the racetrack is quite a bit different today just being 30 degrees cooler than it was on Friday, raining for the first 50 laps probably, but it was a lot of fun, and Greg did a good job keeping up with it.
Q: I guess the real question is I believe if I remember correctly, your contract is only through 2020. Does this win kind of help make that conversation a little bit easier for negotiating an extension again?
GREG IVES: No, he's going to need multiple wins, so we're going to work on that.
ALEX BOWMAN: Man, I love Gregory. (Laughter.)
Every year is a contract year. Every year of my life in the Cup Series has been a contract year. I've had contracts and two weeks before Daytona read a Tweet that said I'm not going to Daytona. There's never a situation that I feel completely comfortable in. I feel like if somebody doesn't want you driving their race cars, you're not going to be there driving it. I'm as motivated as ever, doing everything I can to try to be the best on and off the racetrack as I can be. Hendrick Motorsports is where I want to be. It's where I want to stay for the rest of my career. I don't have ‑‑ it's just where I've always wanted to be. It's where I want to stay.
Hopefully we can make that happen, but like you said, it is a contract year, but honestly every year of my career has been a contract year, so it's not much different than last year.
Q: There was some question even after Vegas where it was like how much gain did the Chevys really make, and you go out and do this today, so it's clear that there's been a lot. Is it this good? Did you make it seem even better than it is today, or is it somewhere in the middle? How do we judge how big of a gain Chevy as a whole has made so far?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, that's a tough one. I feel like Phoenix is going to be a good judge of that. I feel like our mile‑and‑a‑half program was very strong last year, so at the end of the year, I feel like if we would have come here we would have been strong anyway. I think the new body has helped us a lot, the new Camaro. Any change we make, we make for a reason, and Chevy did a good job with that car.
So I think on the intermediate stuff it's really showing up. Phoenix I think we finished like 25th there in the fall last year. We were absolutely horrendous, so hopefully we can go there and run a ton better.
But it's just hard to say this early in the year, but I think the new car is quite a bit better. I think Greg has done a really good job this year, too. Like I said earlier, we've never unloaded so close two weeks in a row. We've never unloaded that close, period, and to do it two weeks in a row has been really cool. He's making my job easy right now for sure. Not easy, but easier, and it's definitely paying off.
Q: Alex, can you describe the pressure of trying to win when you know you have the best car versus trying to win when you don't?
ALEX BOWMAN: I don't really think it's that much different. You know, I think there's a lot of pressure regardless to win races when you drive for Hendrick Motorsports. I feel like that pressure ‑‑ I drive for the best team in the sport, so I feel like that's where a lot of the pressure comes from. I feel like I have one of the best crew chiefs in the sport, definitely have the best pit crew on pit road. So there's a lot of best things that I've got to back up and do my job with.
I put a lot of pressure on myself. There's a lot of pressure that goes on. But however the car is you're going to get what you can get, and we knew we had a good one this week, and we knew we had a shot at it.
Q: Greg, we've seen NASCAR penalizing teams the last couple weeks from them seeing things on cars. Is there a big crackdown? Is it just early in the year and teams are trying things?
GREG IVES: I think it's up to crew chiefs. That's their job is to try to see where the line is, and sometimes you've got to cross it before you understand where it is. Fortunately for us, there's ‑‑ what Alex talked about what the Chevrolet has been able to maybe ‑‑ made us not have to go as far and work in the areas that we typically had to, and just downright have speed in the car. That's been very good from my standpoint to be able to unload and know we have a solid baseline and not have to chase and try to find speed, and when you do that, sometimes you get desperate and sometimes you get over the line.
Q: Take us through some of the restarts because they seemed like they were insane. Three and four wide, and you were right there in the thick of it. Is it a testament to the package that was brought here, or is it just Auto Club Speedway and the fact that the racing surface has basically never been resurfaced?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I think the restarts were like that for a couple reasons today. The track was pretty cool, so the grip level was up. So for five or six laps, pretty much everybody could run wide open. When everybody can run wide open, you can all go about the same speed, which means it's more about drafting and lane choice and building those runs, which turns into running four and five wide.
I didn't feel like we did a great job over any of the restarts. It seemed like there was a don't push me sign on my rear bumper, but I'm glad we finally got up ‑‑ had a good one there at the final one. But it's a culmination of pretty equal grip level from top to bottom here, and just being able to run wide open for those first couple laps on tires.
Q: You had I guess it could be called a gap year in 2017. What has that done for you, to have that year to kind of step away and be in the simulator and not worry about the week‑to‑week pressure of winning and maybe develop things?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I don't think it developed any good things for me, to be perfectly honest with you. I don't think there's ever a time that sitting out of a race car is a good situation for a race car driver. For me it was ‑‑ I knew I wanted to be at Hendrick Motorsports, and I quite honestly had talked to Dale at that point and knew there might be an opportunity the following year and just knew that sitting out was probably my only opportunity to end up at Hendrick Motorsports some day.
It was kind of one of those, you have to do it. But it also opened up some weaknesses to start in 2018. When you're not on and off pit road every week a couple times, when you're not doing green‑flag stops every week, not in a race car every week, you get rusty and you're not always improving. Every driver here is always improving and always learning what they're doing, so I took a year and all I got to do was I ran three races and I tested. I don't feel like I learned as much as I would have if I would have been full‑time. But I did get to take a break and kind of hang out and not ‑‑ I had a day job, I drove the simulator a lot. I got addicted to coffee. When they need you in the simulator at 7:30 in the morning every morning, you start drinking coffee so you stop falling asleep in it. That's probably the one good thing I developed was my love for coffee.
Q: Alex, have you had any other driving aspirations like Marcos Ambrose came and did some NASCAR? Have you thought about doing some Supercars in Australia?
ALEX BOWMAN: I would love to. I'll race anything. I'll race a lawnmower. I'll race the rental cars. We'll probably race the rental cars back to the airport. Don't tell California Highway Patrol. I just want to say, so I'm from ‑‑
GREG IVES: So he said drivers are continuously learning.
ALEX BOWMAN: So I'm from Arizona ‑‑ quick story because last time we were in the media center and we won it was a total s‑‑‑ show, so we're just going to go back to that.
GREG IVES: It was going great there for a while.
ALEX BOWMAN: Growing up in Arizona, I raced quarter‑midgets down the road from here at Pomona Valley all the time, so I'd get off school Thursday, me and my dad would load up in the truck and trailer and we would drive to Pomona. In Arizona there's only one speed limit. Trucks and cars, we're all 75, and then we would get into California and they'd have this dang 55 miles an hour speed limit and we got pulled over a lot, like a lot, a lot.
One time we got ‑‑ like my dad didn't have a CDL and you're supposed to be a CDL and he was going to jail. Yeah, don't tell CHP about the rental car return lot. But yeah, I'll race anything, back to your question. Forgot there was a question there.
I would love to run a V8 Supercar. That would be cool. I think Bathurst is a really cool event. But anywhere they run, they beat the s‑‑‑ out of each other, they have a good time. It looks like a blast.
Q: It's usually a street track and Mount Panorama in Bathurst is a real tough one and a lot of American drivers have gone there and said, hey, we need a track like this here in America. Yeah, we'd love to see you.
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I played it on iRacing a lot and I've wadded them up a lot there, so I probably need some more practice before I go for it, but it's a lot of fun.
Q: Can I ask you about Phoenix next week because it's the first time you guys are going to have the championship race also be in the regular season. How important is that going to be for teams in?
GREG IVES: Well, I think it's really important just to not be embarrassed like we were last time there. We kind of had a stranglehold on that place for a while, winning with Dale and then almost winning with Alex and having a lot of confidence going to that track, and then to kind of fall flat on your face is not a really good feeling, especially when I know it's his hometown, I know we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to run well there, and I don't care if it's the championship race or not, I want to win at any place we go and not be embarrassed.
That's my goal for Phoenix is to go out there, unload just as fast as we did here, execute a good race, and whatever happens at the end of the year is going to happen. But we've got to learn, we've got to continue to grow, and that's kind of my focus next week.
Q: Greg and Alex, you guys obviously put in a lot of work in the off‑season because you wanted to get better. You also had a new car. You're also going to be going to another new car next season. To see a lot of positive results this early in the year, what does that do for everyone back at HMS that's working on these various projects to see the return so quickly?
GREG IVES: Yeah, I think the one thing that I kind of talk about a lot is the fact that when Chevrolet said they're going to commit to working hard to try to improve the body, that put a sense of morale throughout the whole shop, throughout the whole team, a lot of positive attitudes towards it. It was our job as a team, my job as a crew chief, his job as a driver to go out there and execute it, right, and the last few years haven't been great for Hendrick Motorsports on what they're historically used to and the platform that we show up at the racetrack at.
We need to take that positive momentum of the hard work Chevy put in and we needed to put that to results on the racetrack, whether it was top 10, top 5s. It's great to have the win, but continuously building that momentum is something that is needed in the shop environment. It's needed when the guys turn on the TV and they see the racing we had today, and their product was on the racetrack competing for laps, competing on pit road. It's a totally different vibe, totally different feeling.
I know when I show up next week or tomorrow morning in the shop, it's going to be a totally different feeling than what I had last year coming out of California.
ALEX BOWMAN: Retweet.
GREG IVES: What I said.
Q: Alex, after the race, I think one of the TV commentators said you led 110 laps out of 200. How difficult was it to stay focused and not make a mistake?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I mean, I think the most difficult time was when we did get behind on those restarts, really just felt like I really would have to burn my stuff up to get back to the 12 and then not be able to get around him and then eventually drive away from us. So that was the most difficult time. Our car was really good and it was really hard for me to decipher whether I burn the car up or we needed to make a change. I kind of went with my gut and thought that I just burn the tires off of it and if we could get in front of the 12 and not have to pass five guys to get to him, we could stay in front of him.
I'm not sure if we made any changes or not because Greg doesn't really tell me anything. Apparently my tire was going to explode and he didn't tell me anything. But it's cool. So yeah, that was the most difficult time.
Q: Greg, I was told that Goodyear is giving recommendations concerning tire pressure for each track. Technically in your team, do you have a possibility to make simulations to find out where the critical factor is?
GREG IVES: Yeah, we have people back at the shop that all they do all week long is work with the Goodyear engineers, work with the simulation, work with tools, whether it's wheel‑force data, to understand where the optimum pressure is for tire based on grip but also based on failure. Sometimes when you want to get greedy and get to a level that's not in agree‑ance with what Goodyear wants but you're chasing some grip and you've just got to figure out how to get there without having failure.
Our issue this week with the right‑rear tire is to be fast and continue to have lap time, you're on the right‑rear tire, and it went down to the fabric. That's what we want. We want tires that wear out but tires that don't give out and blow.
We had tires last week at Vegas that wore out and gave you an indication of where you were but didn't blow out. Same here at California. Goodyear I feel is doing a great job this year of giving what the drivers want, what the crew chiefs want, and ultimately what the fans want, the falloff in racing and the side by side, and they're doing a great job.
Q: Alex, I was just curious last week with the outcome of the race at Vegas, knowing that you had a car that was capable of winning the race, how much motivation did you have this week at Auto Club to come here and finish what you started there?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, for sure. I feel like I've had a lot of motivation every week. There's a lot of outside pressure. There's a lot of pressure from myself. I just want to win races. That's all there is to it. When I come here and don't run well and people think I look mad or upset or I'm not friendly, you're dang right, I want to win races. I don't like running bad.
I want to run well for me and my team, and last week it would have been really easy to get down on each other, start second‑guessing each other based on that ending, and my team never second‑guesses me, I never second‑guess Greg and the guys, and instead of taking that defeat and getting upset about it, we took the positives from the end of the race and definitely rolled it into positive momentum coming here.
Q: What's the deal with the tattoos?
ALEX BOWMAN: Oh, man. So one of my good buddies, Aaron Gillespie, he's a drummer in Underoath. He was in Paramour for a little while. It's kind of a big deal if you're into that scene. We made a bet at Daytona. Pretty much everybody from Underoath was at Daytona. We made a bet that if I won, we were getting 88 tattoos, and then it just never stopped. We've been talking about it for the last two weeks. Apparently I have to get a neck tattoo, which I'm not really sure that that's going to happen or not, but yeah, next time we're all together, I guess we're all going to get tattoos.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Alex, congratulations.
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