On a restart with 10 of 400 laps remaining Sunday at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, Bowman – who had not led a lap in the race up to that point – navigated around leader Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano to take the lead.
He had little trouble from that point hanging on for the win, finishing .381 seconds ahead of Hamlin to the victory in the ToyotaOwners 400.
It’s Bowman’s first win of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season and his first driving the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet, made famous by former seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who made his first IndyCar Series start on Sunday.
We just had a great race car; it’s as simple as that. Greg Ives (crew chief) and all the guys, they have to deal with me at short tracks and I drive these places really wrong. We kind of instead of trying to make me figure it out, we went to work on getting the race car where I needed it to be,” Bowman said. “Greg has done such an amazing job at making that happen.
“First and foremost, got to thank Ally and Chevrolet; everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. This one is for Rowdy (Harrell) and his family. Miss him and Blakley (Harrell’s wife) every day. Just means the world to be able to win for Ally. It’s definitely emotional, obviously, with how hard the off-season was on us. Appreciative for the opportunity and we have more races to win this year.”
Asked what was going through his mind on the final restart, Bowman said, “To be honest with you, we were terrible on short runs. We restarted third and I’m like, ‘Man, if we get out of here with a solid top-five, we’ll be good. We’ve overcome a lot today.’
“I don’t know if Greg pumped the (air) pressures way up or what he did, but that’s more grip than I’ve ever had in a race car at Richmond and it worked out really well. Getting to race a guy like Denny (Hamlin) at a place that this is really cool. I feel like we raced each other really clean, so I’m appreciative of that. It means a lot.”
The win is also the third of Bowman’s career and first since March 1 of last year in Fontana, Calif., right before the series went on a three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Together, Hamlin, Logano and Martin Truex Jr. led 363 of the 400 laps.
Logano ended up finishing third, Christopher Bell fourth and Truex rounded out the top-five.
Completing the top-10 were Aric Almirola, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, the lead-lap cars all pit with Hamlin the first off pit road. Bowman was penalized for an uncontrolled tire and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was penalized for equipment interference and both had to restart from the rear of the field.
The race returned to green on Lap 248 with Hamlin followed by Truex, Logano, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
With 125 laps remaining in the race, Hamlin built up about a 1-second lead over Logano. Truex was third, Kyle Busch was fourth and Harvick fifth.
A round of green-flag pit stops began on Lap 291. Truex was penalized during his stop for speeding on pit road and had to serve a drive-thru penalty.
Once the cycle of stops was completed on Lap 295, Hamlin returned to the lead followed by Logano, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Bell.
With 75 laps to go, Hamlin maintained a small but steady lead over Logano with Kyle Busch in third. Following his penalty, Truex had worked his way back to 10th, but 20 seconds behind the leader.
After following him nose-to-tail for several laps, Logano went inside of Hamlin on Lap 335 to retake the lead.
Logano made his final green-flag pit stop on Lap 342 and Hamlin and Kyle Busch followed soon after, all taking on tires and fuel to make it to the finish of the race.
Kyle Busch was penalized for a commitment line violation while making his pit stop and had to serve a drive thru penalty.
Logano cycled back to the lead on Lap 345. He was followed by Hamlin, Bell, Bowman and Byron. Kyle Busch ended up 10th and the first car one lap down.
With 30 laps remaining, Hamlin had got to the back of Logano’s rear bumper and began putting pressure on him to attempt a pass for the lead.
On Lap 381, Harvick appeared to have a right-rear go down, spun and hit the Turn 1 wall. He was running eighth at the time of the incident.
The lead-lap cars all pit with Hamlin the first off pit road. Kyle Busch was the beneficiary of the free pass and returned to the lead lap.
On the restart on Lap 389, Hamlin was followed by Logano, Bowman, Bell and Almirola.
Bowman barreled to the inside of Hamlin with 10 laps to go and grabbed the lead for the first time in the race.
Hamlin held off Truex following a second round of green-flag pit stops to complete a sweep of the Stage 1 and 2 victories.
Logano was third, Bowman fourth and Harvick rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, the lead-lap cars all pit with Hamlin the first off pit road.
When the race returned to green on Lap 91, Hamlin was followed by Truex, Logano, Byron and Ryan Blaney.
Truex got to the inside of Hamlin on Lap 104 and came away with the lead as Logano ran third, Bowman fourth and Harvick fifth.
A round of green-flag pit stops began on Lap 137 as several of the top-10 cars elected to pit.
On Lap 141, Ryan Newman got three-wide with Kyle Larson and Austin Cindric, spun and hit the wall to bring out a caution with green-flag stops not yet completed.
Brad Keselowski was first off pit road among those who had not yet pit. When the race returned to green on Lap 148, Harvick led the way followed by Truex and Hamlin.
Truex quickly regained the lead after the restart and Hamlin moved into second.
Several of the lead-lap cars elected to begin a second round of green-flag pit stops. However, a handful of drivers, including Keselowski who took over the lead on Lap 186 while others pit, decided to try to make it to the end of Stage 2 without another stop.
With 40 laps to go in the stage, Keselowski led the way followed by Hamlin, Blaney and Truex.
On Lap 207, Hamlin – on new tires – finally ran down Keselowski and reclaimed the lead.
With 20 laps remaining in the stage, Hamlin had moved out to a 1.1-second lead over Truex. Logano was third, Keselowski was fourth (and still had not pit) and Bowman ran fifth.
Hamlin took control after a round of pit stop and never looked back, cruising to the Stage 1 win over Truex.
Logano was third, Byron fourth and Blaney rounded out the top-five.
Truex started on the pole and led the entire way until NASCAR called a competition caution on Lap 31.
All lead-lap cars pit with Hamlin the first off pit road. Daniel Suarez was penalized during his stop for an uncontrolled tire and had to restart from the rear of the field.
When the race returned to green on Lap 38, Hamlin was followed by Truex, Blaney and Logano.
With 30 laps to go in the first stage, Hamlin maintained a 1.3-second lead over Logano with Truex in third.
With 10 laps remaining, Hamlin’s lead over Logano was just under a second. Truex was third, Byron fourth and Blaney ran fifth.