Alex Bowman’s 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoff run hasn’t gone according to plan. That trend continued in Monday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Though he squeaked into the Round of 12, Bowman saw a respectable finish fade away late in the round opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, when the No. 48 Chevrolet had a loose wheel. That came after all four Hendrick Motorsports cars had a strategy debacle during the second stage, having to pit during the green flag.
Still, Bowman entered Talladega 11th in the playoff standings, just 13 points below the cutline. With two races remaining in the round, that’s a manageable deficit to overcome.
At the conclusion of the first stage, Bowman earned a stage point by finishing 10th. Unfortunately for the No. 48 team, five playoff cars finished ahead of him and scored more stage points. And at one point Bowman’s spotter Kevin Hamlin was frustrated on the team’s radio by the lack of help the No. 48 car was receiving on the track. Straight up, he told Bowman to take his runs when he could.
During the second stage, Bowman found himself battling for the lead with Christopher Bell. But behind Bowman on lap 99, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott pushed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into the No. 48 car. From there, Bowman was turned into the outside wall and hit by Ross Chastain when coming back down the racetrack. The wreck collected a total of nine cars.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gets into the back of Alex Bowman, and we've got a big crash!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 4, 2021
“Just dumped over on the left rear and turned us around really bad,” Bowman told NBC Sports after the wreck. “We had a fast car; we were leading there. That’s just superspeedway racing and the box that we’re put in by these racetracks. You’ll have that. Bummed to have torn up racecar, but we’ll move on and try to go win the ROVAL.”
Because of inclement weather, NASCAR deemed the race official on lap 117. Bowman was scored in 38th position, with HMS teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson in 36th and 37th, respectively.
Heading to the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Bowman is 52 points below the cutline. It’s simple: Bowman must win in order to advance to the Round of 8 for a second consecutive season.
“We were pretty buried anyway and everyone is going to run pretty good,” Bowman added. “So, it was a must run really well situation anyways. It doesn’t really change much. We know we’re going to need to win. We’ll go do our best to make that happen.”
In three career starts at the ROVAL, Bowman has been quite sporty. Two times Bowman has finished inside the top five, including his runner-up result to Elliott in 2019. His average finish is 4.7.