Justin Grant Taking Underdog Mentality to Chili Bowl
Jan 7, 2022
Middle row, middle section.
Team owner Alex Bowman stands in his usual pit area perch at the center cross section at the Tulsa Expo Center overlooking his cars surrounded by drivers CJ Leary and Jake Swanson. This was the case last year too when Bowman conceded driving duties to Swanson.
However, Bowman has joined both of his drivers on the entry list this year, but his newly expanded operation is now adorned in the familiar purple and white colors of Ally Financial -- most commonly associated with his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
It’s legitimately a sharp looking fleet.
"Thank you," Bowman said. "A lot of time and little details went into it."
The same could be said for their Chili Bowl preparation this winter too. Alex Bowman Racing recently converted from his longstanding Rick Stewart chassis to the three Spike entries and have immediately won with them.
Specifically, Leary swept both nights of the Walkapedia Carolina Midget Showdown at Millbridge Speedway (NC) in October.
Bowman has raced Stewarts since the start of his career, and Rick Stewart was extremely instrumental in shaping his earliest exploits, but time had started to catch up to them. Alex Bowman Racing failed to place a car into the feature last year at Tulsa (Swanson 13th in B2, Leary 13th in C2) and Bowman intends to take the fight to the top teams in 2022.
"Obviously, I grew up in Rick Stewart’s shop and building another car in his shop the way he built his Chili Bowl cars was really special and I’m still really good friends with all those guys," Bowman said. "So, you know, we tried really really hard and we were really good for quite awhile until last year. We just couldn’t run as well as the amount of effort we put in."
As much as Bowman enjoys building cars, he wants to win with them too, and adding a 410 Sprint Car program means more to manage. Thus, having access to turn-key identical Spikes was a logistical game changer.
"To be honest with you, building a third car, it's way easier to order a Spike where everything bolts on and you can buy a body for them and all that. Whereas we were building everything ourselves and it was a lot of work. It was a tough choice, but these Spikes seem to be pretty good."
Swanson was brought on to compliment Leary and allow Bowman to focus on what he feels he’s best at during the Chili Bowl – serving as the crew chief. But Bowman has the itch to drive the still-new 410 Sprint during Speedweeks at Volusia and the Tulsa Expo Center is as good of a tune-up as anything else.
"I'm excited to be back driving," Bowman said. "I think I want to run the winged sprint Car quite a bit and I feel like running a Midget a little bit in the winter will kind of refresh my memory somewhat before Florida in February.
"I haven't run a Midget a lot over the past few years, so hopefully we'll all have a good week, but I am excited to be back."
In his last two appearances, Bowman was eliminated in the B, coming up just a few spots short of making the feature each time. Before that, Bowman was eliminated in his E back in 2016. Bowman says he would be satisfied with an appearance in the C given his relative inexperience behind the wheel in recent years.
But he’s especially optimistic for four-time main event starter Leary and 2017 fifth-place finisher Swanson.
"A lot can happen here that's out of your control," Bowman said. "And it's been a rough year on CJ for sure. So hopefully he can start ‘22 out pretty good. Having Jake back, because he was so strong last year and finished the year out well in his Sprint Car year, is going to be big too.
"It's cool to have Ally on board all three cars. Having them support a passion of mine and have two of my best friends driving the other two cars is pretty cool."