Listen to this article
Bowman, who drives the No. 48 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports, won the pole for Sunday’s 500 with an average lap speed of 181.686 mph, easily holding off his teammate Kyle Larson for the top spot.
With the pole in hand, Bowman will now start on front row of the season-opener for a NASCAR-record sixth consecutive time. He owns four career poles, with three of them coming in the Daytona 500.
However, none of those front row starts have translated into victory. In addition, no Hendrick driver has won the season’s biggest race since 2014 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.).
“Every year it’s, ‘Man, now it’s time to finish, like make it to the end.’ Last year, I think I sat on the back straightaway for four laps before they could figure out how to get me to pit road with four flat tires,” Bowman, 29, said.
“It’s such a hard race to finish. We’ve crashed early, we’ve crashed in the middle, we’ve crashed late. Obviously, I don’t have the answer. I haven’t figured out how to finish it yet.”
The recent qualifying success for the race by the Hendrick organization does give Bowman a bit of confidence heading into the event each season and any advantage is welcome.
“I know we have a really fast race car and a great group of guys that are capable of doing great,” he said. “But, man, it’s been tough. We want to finish this race and finish it well.”
Starting well, but need to finish well
Bowman’s record at Daytona during his Cup career has been spotty despite his excellent starting positions.
He’s led a grand total of 17 laps in six starts. His best finish was 11th in 2019 after starting on the pole and it remains the only 500 in which Bowman has ended the race on the lead lap.
“Some guys have been able to figure out how to be really good at speedway racing and consistently be there at the end, so obviously there is something to it,” Bowman said. “I just have to figure that out on my end as well.
“I feel like the ‘big one’ can happen at any point. Just trying to put ourselves in position to have a chance at winning. It definitely gets pretty intense and we’re typically caught up in it, so hopefully we can avoid it this year.”
To maintain his spot on the front row, Bowman will have to navigate his 150-mile qualifying race Thursday night without any wrecks or damage that would force him to move to a backup car.
Asked on his approach to the race, he said, “This year it just really depends on how it drives, right? We’ll see how it drives in the draft. If it drives well, we’ll race hard.
“If it’s sketchy and I’m going to crash the thing, obviously you want to protect it. Yeah, going to do all we can to keep it up front and see how it drives.”
Bowman says the difficulty in trying to reach Victory Lane in NASCAR’s biggest race has not left him with a “negative mindset.”
Rather, just more determined.
“It’s just a tough race to make it to the end of, so just trying to figure out how to make that happen is the hardest thing for me and it’s not really black or white,” he said.
“It’s trying to figure out what works for you, what areas of the race to push in, it’s really subjective to how you feel on the ebbs and flows of the race. You’re trying to figure it out better than the next guy.”