Chevrolet’s difficulty in figuring out their handling with a new body style in the first part of the 2018 season left several drivers disappointed. Foremost among them were the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization.
The loss of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the end of 2017 precipitated the need for change in the No. 88 and with few veterans available that were worthy of the ride, the organization went to one of their fill-in drivers from when Earnhardt was battling one of his concussions. Most of Alex Bowman’s experience before joining Hendrick came in underfunded teams. There were not a lot of success stories on which to make an evaluation – so they had to make some decisions based on limited data.
In 10 races with HMS during the 2016 season, Bowman performed admirably with three top-10s, another two top-15s and a 16th. That encouraged the team to take a risk on a mostly unknown driver. Hendrick expected Bowman to come out of the gates strong; fantasy handicappers were a little less enthusiastic.
Who was right? If not for the handling problems suffered by Hendrick, Bowman would like have been a much better value at the beginning of the season. Ford and Toyota’s dominance left little room among the top 10, so Bowman’s 16th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, back-to-back 13ths at Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway and Auto Club Speedway, plus top-10s at Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway were all encouraging.
Bowman even managed to score a three consecutive top-10s in late June / early July on three distinct track types: Chicagoland Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, and Daytona International Speedway. Unfortunately, toward the end of the season, those became much rarer and in the last seven weeks of 2018, Bowman scored only one top-10. Any momentum he may have had was lost at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedway when he finished laps off the pace in both events.
Bowman was not a rookie last year, but from a fantasy handicapping standpoint he may as well have been. This was the first time he competed in solid equipment and that means that no one really can accurately evaluate his capability. The team is strong enough for another top-15 position in the points, however, and Bowman is capable of getting that much from the car.
Three Best Tracks
Bristol (21.5 in 6 attempts)
Daytona (22.6 in 6)
Auto Club (22.7 in 3)
Three Worst Tracks
Indianapolis (38.7 in 3)
Kentucky (35.3 in 3)
Dover (29.5 in 6)
Victories: None, best finish of third at Pocono II
Top-fives: 3 (.083)
Top-10s: 11 (.306)
Top-15s: 17 (.472)
2018 Finishes at or above their rank? = 17 (47.2%)