Tucson-born Alex Bowman hopes to finish 48th from Daytona

With the green flag flying on Daytona 500 Sunday, Alex Bowman will start ahead of the pack after winning pole position qualification earlier this week.

For the native Tucson, this is the fourth straight start in a row, but the first since taking his place in NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson’s # 48 car.

Bowman was the fastest in pole qualifying on Wednesday with a speed of 191.261 and will lead the 63rd Daytona 500 on Sunday.

“It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?” Bowman said after qualifying on Wednesday. “I am so grateful and blessed with this opportunity.”

Johnson passed his final NASCAR finish line at Phoenix Raceway in November. About a month earlier, Hendrick Motorsports announced Bowman as a seven-time successor.

Bowman said during a Zoom press briefing earlier this week he missed having Johnson on the team, whether on the track or at Zoom meetings where the 19-year-old veteran had several technical difficulties about what Bowman’s favorite part was or when Meet the HMS team from a prominent location in Colorado.

“He’s been a really good guy and just a good friend for the past few years. As a team-mate, I learned a lot from him, ”said Bowman on Monday. “It will be an honor to drive the 48.”

Since Johnson retired, Hendricks’ team has relied on youth from last year’s Cup Series champion Chase Elliot to Bowman. The average of the team is younger at around 25 years.

HMS owner Rick Hendrick said he was surprised at the level of production from this young core. He loves to watch them grow in their experience, almost like a high school athlete going to college and then going pro.

Now her talent is starting to shine.

“They are not in the prime of their lives, they are getting better,” said Hendrick.

Consistency, often a fall for young racers, is key for Bowman in his sixth season. He hopes to find this move that his crew has taken and that has resulted in a deep playoff run throughout the season.

Bowman’s crew chief Greg Ives said he was excited that his driver worked hard in the off-season to get exactly where they left off.

“We have consistency in our team,” said Ives. “We have bumps on the road, but the nice thing is that we’re brothers in arms and can work through them.”

Bowman finished 6th overall in the 2020 Cup Series but wants to write his own story in this iconic car.

Alex Bowman (48) runs during a NASCAR Daytona 500 qualifier on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo / Chris O'Meara).

That starts on Daytona 500 Sunday.

There’s no substitute for Johnson, Bowman said. He had to follow big names before.

Before the 48th, Bowman drove # 88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car. Earnhardt Jr. won two races at Daytona and is tragically connected to the track when his father was killed in a fall at the Daytona 500 20 years ago.

Bowman wants to win selfishly, he said. There is no expectation for him to win based on the number of cars he drives, but because he wants to win.

“I think the biggest thing for me is: there is no car number in the world or a situation in the world that will put more pressure on me than myself,” said Bowman.

This personal requirement earned the 500 pole sitter, but he will have a steep barrier to climb as no driver has won the race from that position since 2000.

In addition, in the duel on Thursday in Daytona, Bowman and his pit crew fought against technical problems that caused “a great deal of vibration with the car” and a problem with radio communication.

As Bowman climbs to 48 and takes his starting position at 500, he says he’ll try to think as little as possible. Avoid worrying about potential problems with the car or uncontrollable variables like accidents. He said he didn’t have the brain capacity for that.

When the roar of the engines behind him drowns out the noise, he looks at the gas pedal and leaves it in the rear view.

“It’s always been like this for me,” he said. “Outside of things or whatever is going on, once you’re strapped in, it’s important and it’s just your job to maximize what you get out of this racing car.”

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