The first three weeks of the NASCAR Cup Series season have featured numerous drivers losing control of the Gen 7 cars while practicing, qualifying, or fighting for position on the track. Now Las Vegas Winner Alex Bowman has explained to Heavy why the best drivers have struggled with incidents.
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro provided some insight ahead of the trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He explained that the cars are not exactly harder to drive overall. There are just certain factors that remove any room for error each week, resulting in collisions with the wall.
“It’s interesting because they’re not necessarily harder to drive, they’re harder to predict and save when something goes wrong,” Bowman told Heavy. “I think, as far as driving the race car, they’re pretty similar. They’re just much more on edge than they have been in the past. Like the old cars, you’re able to slide around, and when you do lose grip, you can typically save the cars.
“The new car is a much finer line. As soon as the car loses grip, typically end up crashing it. Don’t really have a chance to save it. So just trying to find that balance of how hard you can really drive the car, basically. Instead of driving the car really hard all race, you’re kind of like backing off and just not running as hard. So it’s just different.”
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This fine line played a major role in Bowman’s trip to Victory Lane on March 6. Kyle Busch was in the lead with three laps remaining at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it appeared that he would hold off Martin Truex Jr. and Ross Chastain all the way to the checkered flag. However, the situation changed with a late caution.
Erik Jones lost control of the No. 43 and slammed into the wall, destroying the right side of his stock car. He brought out the caution and sent the drivers down pit road for fresh tires. Busch, Truex, and Chastain all took four while Bowman, Kyle Larson, and William Byron all opted for two tires so they could take the top spots.
Bowman and Larson lined up on the front row, and they battled during the two-lap overtime. The driver of the No. 48 edged out his teammate on the final turn and beat Larson to the finish line to lock up his spot in the playoffs.
The Cars Have Made Bowman Alter His Approach
The driver of the No. 48 has spent the first three weeks of the season adjusting to a significant change. The new cars are not necessarily made for the setup that he prefers, especially on the intermediate tracks, so he has had to shift his approach and follow some of his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
“Yeah, for me, I think it changes things quite a bit,” Bowman told Heavy. “I really like a loose race car. I like to drive off the right rear tire way more so than my teammates. I’m always way looser than them to be happy with my car. So I’ve had to kind of reset and try to figure out how to go more their direction and drive a tighter racecar, which is something that I’ve never liked.
“You look at Kyle Larson, and it is his wheelhouse. He loves being super tight. I cannot stand it. I was like, ‘I want the back of the car to steer the front of the car.’ So just trying to kind of understand how to shift my balance that I’m looking for and do a better job with a tighter race car has been the biggest thing.”
Having a loose race car has helped Bowman in the past. He used this setup during the 2020 trip to Auto Club Speedway and turned in a dominant performance. Fast-forward to 2022, and he had to run a tighter setup after learning that sliding the new cars leads to less downforce and, ultimately, spins.
Bowman Expects Some Small Teams to Make Noise
As a member of a powerhouse organization, Bowman has helped account for numerous wins during his run as a full-time driver. However, only one member of HMS has reached Victory Lane during the 2022 season so far while smaller teams have put themselves into contention.
Drivers such as Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have all posted top-10 finishes during the first few weeks of the season while going toe-to-toe with Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports.
Bowman explained that he expects this trend to continue during the first half of the season. He believes that the smaller teams will contend for wins early — and potentially reach Victory Lane — before some of the bigger teams with more resources start to figure things out.