Sunday, June 26, 2022

CUP: Bump from LaJoie leaves Alex Bowman with first last-place finish since 2018

PHOTO: @RealJaredHaas

by Brock Beard Editor-In-Chief

Alex Bowman picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway when his #48 Ally Music City Chevrolet was eliminated under the "Damaged Vehicle Policy" (DVP) after 49 of 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Bowman’s 242nd series start, was his first of the season and first since July 14, 2018 at Kentucky, 142 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 4th under the DVP, the 23rd for the #48, and the 827th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 7th by DVP, the 31st for the #48, and the 1,846th for Chevrolet.

In the time since he was last featured on this site, Bowman has gone from an overperforming underdog to a surprising winner. In so doing, he’s continued the winning legacies of two different Hendrick Motorsports entries following the retirements of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. It was with Junior’s #88 that he scored his first Cup win at the Chicagoland Speedway in 2019, besting Kyle Larson in a heated battle during the final moments, then won the following spring at Fontana in dominant fashion, leading more than half the laps. In the #48, Bowman has since made the #48 entry his own. He won five times last year – including late-race battles at Richmond and Martinsville at the cost of Denny Hamlin, who referred to him as a “hack.” This became the first win Bowman would commemorate with a special t-shirt, followed by his upset victory just this year at Las Vegas.  

For the second-straight year, Ally Bank was the title sponsor of the Nashville race, so Bowman would run a special paint scheme for the event. After Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s “Neon Lights” scheme won a fan contest in 2021, Junior showed three hilariously awful schemes in his “Unexpected Allies” series before the final “Music City” version was revealed in the June 13 finale. The purple car ran 15th-fastest in opening practice, then narrowly missed the final round of qualifying with a 12th-fastest lap of 159.520mph (30.015 seconds). Rain cancelled the final round regardless, handing Denny Hamlin the pole.

Starting 36th and last was Kyle Busch, whose #18 Pedigree Toyota broke loose on its qualifying lap and backed into the Turn 3 wall with the left-rear bumper. Their timed lap cancelled, the Joe Gibbs Racing crew elected to repair the primary car, and the resulting unapproved adjustments would incur him a redundant tail-end penalty. No other driver would join him in the back of the pack, so Busch took the green flag in the final row.

During the opening laps, the last-place spot fell to Josh Bilicki in the #77 Ziegler Auto Group Chevrolet, who was within sight of B.J. McLeod in the #78 Motorsport Games XBOX Ford as both fell two laps down to the leaders. Storm clouds that threatened to delay the start continued to move in, but not until after Bilicki’s #77 slowed down the backstretch on Lap 42, reporting a loss of fuel pressure. As Bilicki made it to pit road, the caution fell for debris, which also saved a struggling William Byron. Byron had just lost the 10th spot to Kevin Harvick when his #24 Valvoline Chevrolet reported a possible flat tire. This issue appeared to be resolved when the half-hour red flag for a lightning hold finally ended, and Bilicki restarted his onboard computer to get the fuel pressure back to 70 pounds. 

The race restarted on Lap 47, and moments later, Byron – now running 7th – pulled into the high lane, his car noticeably off the pace. “It’s really bad,” the driver reported, indicating an issue with the steering. As the crew told him to pull into the garage, trouble broke out in Turn 4. Alex Bowman was in 24th when contact from Corey LaJoie’s #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet sent him spinning driver’s side first into the outside wall. Bowman was frustrated with LaJoie, who said he thought Bowman had committed to a different lane. Regardless, Bowman managed to drive back to pit road for repairs – though not until after the right-front tire came apart, tearing off the fender.

On Lap 51, as Byron pulled into the garage for the steering issue, Bilicki had just managed to pass McLeod for the 35th spot. Bowman’s crew continued to attempt repairs until Lap 55, when the team ran out of time as the latest team trying to repair the NextGen car’s fragile toe links. “We’re out of time,” said the crew, which bolted the tires back onto the car and pushed it behind the wall, out of the race. On Lap 66, NASCAR’s garage official confirmed Bowman was out due to "accident," though later clarified in the results as DVP. Two laps later, Byron’s crew said they were between five and ten minutes from completing repairs to the steering. This was done on Lap 85, when Byron re-fired the engine and returned to the track the next time by. On Lap 88, Byron finally completed his 49th lap with a time of 1,717.25 seconds, or 2.794mph. With just a one-lap deficit to Bowman, he dropped the #48 to last on Lap 89, and reported the car’s handling had returned to normal.

On Lap 61, Chase Briscoe’s #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford broke loose racing under Ty Dillon’s #42 Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevrolet for 19th, causing both cars to bounce off each other and the outside wall. Both managed to clear the “Crash Clock” with Briscoe doing son on Lap 68, but ten circuits later, the #14 suddenly shut off on the track, and pulled behind the wall on Lap 80. When a second red flag flew for lightning and, later, a rainstorm, Byron was within nine laps of passing Briscoe for 34th. But Briscoe also returned to action and ultimately held off Byron for 34th by seven laps. McLeod took 32nd, one spot ahead of Josh Bilicki, whose fuel pressure issues culminated in an engine failure that drew the race’s final caution with seven laps to go. Bilicki and Bowman were the only two drivers who failed to finish under power.

With 19 races to go, McLeod has pulled back ahead of Corey LaJoie for the lead in the 2022 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship on a bottom-fifteen tiebreaker of 12-9.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #48 in a Cup Series race since May 24, 2020, when Jimmie Johnson was disqualified from the Coca-Cola 600. Bowman is the first driver other than Johnson to finish last in the #48 in a Cup Series points race since February 28, 1993, when James Hylton had a busted oil pan on his #48 Rumple Furniture Pontiac after 24 laps around Rockingham.

36) #48-Alex Bowman / 49 laps / DVP
35) #24-William Byron / 262 laps / running
34) #14-Chase Briscoe / 269 laps / running
33) #77-Josh Bilicki / 285 laps / engine
32) #78-B.J. McLeod / 295 laps / running

1st) Live Fast Motorsports, Spire Motorsports (3)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing (2)
3rd) 23XI Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (2)


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