NASCAR Barometer: Bowman Wins Second Career Race

NASCAR Barometer: Bowman Wins Second Career Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Alex Bowman was confident in his car all weekend at Auto Club Speedway and put the pedal to the metal once the green flag waved on Sunday's Auto Club 400. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took his first career stage win in the opening segment when he raced from his second-row starting position to battle for the lead early. Ryan Blaney took his Ford power to the front in the second stage, but Bowman recovered and pulled away again in the final stage. He had a commanding lead in the final laps and was able to comfortably cruise to the checkered flag once Blaney had to pit for a tire issue late in the race. Bowman now will begin his focus on optimizing his efforts for the playoffs. The Hendrick cars were impressive in the final 10 races last season, and winning so early this season gives Bowman extra time to prepare.

The series ends its West Coast trip this week at Phoenix Raceway. This is the first season this track will be the championship decider, as Homestead-Miami Speedway moved its race to an earlier spot on the schedule. Teams will want to make sure they learn as much as they can for the return to the track in the fall, but still want to walk away with an early win so they can be assured of their spot in the battle to get there again in championship contention. Joe Gibbs Racing has been the class of the field there the

Alex Bowman was confident in his car all weekend at Auto Club Speedway and put the pedal to the metal once the green flag waved on Sunday's Auto Club 400. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took his first career stage win in the opening segment when he raced from his second-row starting position to battle for the lead early. Ryan Blaney took his Ford power to the front in the second stage, but Bowman recovered and pulled away again in the final stage. He had a commanding lead in the final laps and was able to comfortably cruise to the checkered flag once Blaney had to pit for a tire issue late in the race. Bowman now will begin his focus on optimizing his efforts for the playoffs. The Hendrick cars were impressive in the final 10 races last season, and winning so early this season gives Bowman extra time to prepare.

The series ends its West Coast trip this week at Phoenix Raceway. This is the first season this track will be the championship decider, as Homestead-Miami Speedway moved its race to an earlier spot on the schedule. Teams will want to make sure they learn as much as they can for the return to the track in the fall, but still want to walk away with an early win so they can be assured of their spot in the battle to get there again in championship contention. Joe Gibbs Racing has been the class of the field there the past three races, but Toyota's struggles could open the door to a different winner this week.

UPGRADE

Alex BowmanBowman grabbed his first career stage win Sunday in the Auto Club 400 and then went on to win his second career race with a dominating final run in the closing miles of Sunday's race. He raced front-row starters Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson through the opening laps and pulled away after the first pit stop of the race, which was just a sign of things to come. Bowman started on pole at Phoenix in 2016, which was the year he scored his only top-10 at the track. He was 35th and 23rd at the track last season and needs to take a step forward at the track to be ready should he make it all the way to the championship finale this season.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney took the second stage win on Sunday after finishing runner up in the first two races of the season. The Penske Racing team fell short of their teammates last year but seem to have made the adjustments they needed to bring more consistency to their game in 2020. He was chasing down Bowman in the final laps when a tire issue forced him to the pits and out of contention for his third consecutive runner-up finish with less than 10 laps remaining in the race. The result was not what he deserved, but the season continues to look bright for him. Blaney started from pole twice in his eight-race Phoenix career and finished third in both visits to the circuit last season.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson continued his impressive start to his final full-time season in the series. He practiced among the fastest and then narrowly missed out on pole position at his home track. He remained in contention throughout the 400 miles and confidently placed inside the top 10 for his second top-10 finish of the season. Historically, Phoenix has been a good venue for Johnson. In 33 starts, he has won four times and finished eighth and 14th in the two races there last season. Johnson has found the edge he needed to take a step forward to the front of the pack this season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him win in his last full-time season.

Kyle Busch – Busch salvaged a runner-up finish after a trying few weeks on the West Coast in this 2020 season. The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were disappointing in Las Vegas and then struggled to make an impact throughout Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway. The adjustments Busch made to his car throughout the distance allowed him to move inside the top five in the final stage and an additional step forward as Blaney was forced to the pits late in the race. Toyota still seems to have some work to do to return to the heights of last season, but Busch is doing what he can in the meantime. He is a three-time winner at Phoenix and hasn't finished worse than second there since 2017.

Kurt Busch – The season didn't start well for the elder Busch brother. His first two races of the year failed to produce even a top-20 for the former champion. Things came together at Auto Club Speedway, however. Busch was quick in practice and was optimistic of his chances heading into Sunday's race. That outlook proved well founded as he raced near the top of the order throughout the race distance. As the final miles ticked away, he cycled farther forward and finished third for his first top-five of the season. It was too early for fantasy owners to write him off after Las Vegas. Busch is a past Phoenix winner from way back in 2005. He was seventh and 11th at the track last season, and now appears to have his 2020 season headed the right direction.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson had a slower than desired pit stop and was racing amongst the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates deeper in the pack than he should have when contact with Denny Hamlin turned him into the wall and left him with a wounded machine for the final two stages of Sunday's race. The damage was heavy to the right side of his car and ruined the aerodynamics at a track that puts an emphasis on top speed. The long runs with few cautions never gave Larson a chance to recover and he finished a distant 21st. Larson has earned three top-10s in the three most recent Phoenix races and five in the last seven. Sunday's finish was his first outside of the top 10 this season.

Clint Bowyer – After starting from pole position on Sunday, Bowyer dropped from the lead as he battled a tight handling car. Things got worse for him after a front tire failure in the second stage caused splitter damage and brought the race under caution for the first time aside from a stage break. The damage took away his ability to race at the front of the field and he eventually fell a lap behind the leaders as the race wore on. Issues like Sunday's are what he and the team need to overcome to navigate their way into the playoffs this fall. Bowyer has two top-fives and eight top-10s from 29 career visits to Phoenix Raceway. He was eighth in last season's fall race and 11th in the spring.

Christopher Bell – Bell's engine gave up one of its cylinders in the second stage of Sunday's race. The failure extended Bell's rookie season of underperformance. His best finish so far is 21st in the Daytona 500 and he hasn't matched that since. This week's race should be a good barometer for Bell's outlook for the remainder of the season. Phoenix was one of his better tracks in the Xfinity series. He started from pole twice and won there in 2018. His average finish from five starts in that series was 11th. Fantasy owners will want to pay close attention to how he performs this weekend, but there is little doubt that with a few adjustments he can elevate himself into the top 20 on a much more frequent basis.

Daniel Suarez – After losing his drive at the end of the 2019 season, Suarez knew he had his work cut out for him in 2020 with a team that needed to qualify on speed to make the race each week. He missed out on racing in Daytona but has made the field the past two weeks. His Las Vegas outing was forgettable with a 30th-place result, and this past week's run in California didn't offer much to be positive about either. Suarez hasn't qualified in the top 30 yet this season and is still looking for his first top-25 of the year. He was 23rd and 15th in the two Phoenix races last season, which doesn't give fantasy owners much optimism that he would be able to outperform his current trend this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Tyler Reddick – Reddick quietly had a confidence-boosting performance Sunday in Fontana. The series rookie finished just outside of the top 10 in Sunday's race, which was his first top-15 finish of the year. Fans have been anxious to see the rookie battle as it evolves throughout the season, and Reddick is making sure he won't be left in the dust. Reddick's average Phoenix finish from eight starts in the Xfinity series is impressive at 7.2. He finished third in the last two races there and only finished outside of the top 10 at the track once in that span. Reddick was the top finishing Richard Childress Racing car on Sunday and the fifth-highest placing Chevrolet. He will earn more looks from a fantasy perspective with more performances like Sunday's.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the EchoPark Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the EchoPark Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS:  AutoTrader EchoPark  Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Preview: New Date for Texas
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Preview: New Date for Texas
NASCAR DFS Trucks:  SpeedyCash.com 250
NASCAR DFS Trucks: SpeedyCash.com 250