By Cole Cusumano
Long Pond, Penn. — Off weeks in sports are a blessing and a curse. While designed to serve as a reset before beginning the second-half grind, it can help or hurt any team, regardless of their status entering the break.
For Alex Bowman, it’s unfortunately been the latter. Since the NASCAR Cup Series returned from its break at Nashville Superspeedway on June 26, the driver of the No. 48 has been on a steady decline, courtesy of three DNFs over the last four races.
“It’s been tough, but we’re all working hard,” Bowman told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “The team’s all together and trying to get back headed in the right direction and hopefully Pocono (Raceway) is a good place to do that.”
You could chalk it up to misfortune, but that doesn’t change the fact Bowman hasn’t scored a top-10 since Charlotte in May and he’s slipped to 11th in the standings after being as high as fifth. He’s also seen his once series-leading average finish dip to 15.4 due to his cold stretch.
Luckily for Bowman, he’s seen a lot of recent success at the “Tricky Triangle.” The Arizona native is riding a three-race top-10 streak at Pocono, which includes a win last year. Additionally, he’s only 1-of-5 drivers to lead laps in both races last season with third-most led overall that weekend (34).
“[Pocono’s] definitely been a good place for us. I feel like we’ve had some hard days, and even when we won there last year, I don’t think we were phenomenal by any means. Horsepower is a big deal there and Hendrick engines under the hood are never a bad thing.”
One thing working against Bowman this weekend is lack of track time, which has proven to be a premium with the finicky Next Gen car. Since the Cup Series returned to action at Nashville, he’s only completed 30% of laps over the past four weeks.
Having a good grip on the Gen-7 car is going to be imperative heading into the track dubbed trickiest on the circuit, as Turn 2 has drivers on edge entering Pocono. Not only is the “tunnel turn” one of the more narrow parts of the 2.5-mile track, it’s also succumbed to a barrage of weathering since the last repave in 2012, making the surface exceptionally bumpy – something that doesn’t mesh well with the Next Gen car and its underbelly.
“Just trying to get across the bumps there without upsetting the race car is going to be hard,” Bowman said. “Once you’re out of shape there, it’s hard to save there. Trying to get across that is probably going to be the hardest spot, but hopefully Greg (Ives, crew chief) gives me a race car that is on rails and we can get through there just fine.”
Ultimately, Bowman has proven to be one of the most opportunistic drivers in the sport, so who’s to say he can’t repeat at Pocono? With recent success at the Pennsylvania track on his side, the No. 48 team could be due for a much needed rebound in the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400.
“It’s the same team that won four races last year,” Bowman said. “We know how to get to victory lane and we know how to bring really fast race cars to the track. If we could just get a solid top-10 weekend and kind of get pointed back in the right direction, that would be great.”