Blake Harris took over as Alex Bowman’s crew chief after the 2022 season came to an end. He and the driver of the No. 48 haven’t yet worked together during any on-track sessions, but they have still had opportunities to build some crucial chemistry.
Harris provided some insight into the process after moving over to Hendrick Motorsports from Front Row Motorsports. He told the championship-winning organization’s media arm that they have been spending time together at the shop, focusing on a variety of scenarios they will encounter during the 2023 season.
“A little bit of the chemistry is easy to see early on,” Harris said in an article for the Hendrick Motorsports website. “Just meeting with Alex the first few times. We both grew up around dirt tracks and have a lot of interest there. I think some of that chemistry has to be natural early on.
“As far as the week in and week out, you go through the scenarios of each race. You have to put a lot of focus early on how you speak in those moments to try and accelerate that learning curve. It will take a little bit of time early in the season. As far as working together, chemistry, and being comfortable with one another, that will come pretty easily.”
Along with the time at the shop, Harris and Bowman will also spend time together during an annual event. They will both head to the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., to kick off the month of January.
Bowman Provided Some Insight During a Trip to Nashville
The 2023 season will mark the first time since Bowman joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2016 that he will have a new crew chief. He will work with Harris while trying to add more wins to his resume.
Adapting to a new crew chief will not be a simple matter, especially after Bowman and Greg Ives won seven races together over the past four seasons. However, the Arizona native has faith that they will be able to put in enough work over the offseason to make this process easier.
“We started a couple weeks ago, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the shop,” Bowman told Heavy during NASCAR Awards week. “It’s been really good working with him so far. It’s hard [to build chemistry] without going on the racetrack, right? But at least getting to know each other better and starting to work together and kind of getting the ball rolling has been really good.”
Harris Quickly Made Strides With Another Driver
The Bowman-Harris pairing will be one to watch during the 2023 season. If it works out as Hendrick Motorsports hopes, it could lead to some major strides on the track and more trips to Victory Lane. If not, HMS could opt to make some changes.
The driver-crew chief relationship is one of the most important in NASCAR. There are plenty of memorable pairings that have led to success in the past. This includes Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus; Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers; Chase Elliott and Alan Gustafson; Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli; and Richard Petty and Dale Inman.
Harris became a full-time crew chief for the first time during the 2022 season. He left Joe Gibbs Racing to partner with Michael McDowell at Front Row Motorsports, and he helped the veteran driver turn in a career year.
McDowell did not reach the playoffs in 2022 after punching his ticket for the first time in 2021. He was one of the many winless drivers that could not join the stacked field. However, he still set career marks across the board while working with Harris for the first time.
McDowell reached double digits in top-10 finishes for the first time in his Cup Series career. He posted 12 on the season — 11 with Harris atop the pit box. McDowell also matched his career-best mark of two top-fives.
The statistic that stands out the most from McDowell’s 2022 campaign is his average finish (16.7). He had never posted an average finish below 20.0 in his career dating back to the 2008 season, but Harris helped him majorly surpass this mark.