I think it would have been very understandable, if not predictable, to see Alex Bowman and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team come out of the gates a little sluggish to start the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.
The 29-year-old racer missed five of the last six events of the 2022 season with lingering concussion-like symptoms following an incident at Texas Motor Speedway. Additionally, Bowman's long-time crew chief, Greg Ives, was set to step off the pit box at the end of the 2022 season.
In stepped Blake Harris. And while Bowman is an incredible race car driver and Harris has proven to be one of the rising stars among crew chiefs in the series, as he had an incredible rookie season as a crew chief for Michael McDowell at Front Row Motorsports in 2022, it usually takes some time to build that chemistry between a driver and crew chief.
Well, it appears that the team of Bowman and Harris is not your normal driver/crew chief combination.
Hendrick Motorsports shared a video of Harris on Tuesday sharing a conversation with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports pit crew during pit stop practice.
To Harris' credit, he brought an ultra-fast No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro to Daytona International Speedway. The car was so fast that Bowman rocketed to the pole in The Great American Race by nearly two-tenths of a second over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson. It was an incredible lap and an even more incredible car.
It was a statement qualifying effort, but Bowman is expected to qualify well at Daytona. His pole run marked a record-breaking sixth-consecutive Daytona 500 front-row starting spot for Bowman.
While Bowman has qualified well in the Daytona 500 in the past, the race has often been a struggle.
But in a wild Daytona 500, Bowman, who led 12 laps in the race, was able to steer clear of most of the mayhem as he finished an impressive fifth. The finish marked Bowman's first-career top-five finish at Daytona International Speedway.
This past weekend at Auto Club Speedway, Bowman had another solid effort. The starting lineup was set by the rulebook after the weather canceled qualifying for the Pala Casino 400. But the lack of track time didn't hinder Bowman and Harris.
The driver of the No. 48 machine scooted past Christopher Bell on lap two and spent the next 16 laps in front of the field. Under a pit stop during the lap 15 competition caution, Bowman would lose the lead on pit road.
According to Bowman, he had issues launching from his pit box all race long.
“I felt like we were good," Bowman said of the speed in his race car. "I just couldn’t launch out of my pit box. The pit box was really slick and I struggled with that, and because of that, I lost a lot of spots on pit road."
As Bowman attempted to rally back from lost spots on pit road, due to the slick pit box, the racer would lead one additional lap throughout the event to bring his total on the day to 17 laps led in the 200-lap event.
At the end of the day, the disadvantage exiting pit road foiled any hope Bowman had at winning Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway. But Bowman walked out of Fontana, California with his head held high as once again, Harris and company brought him another fast race car to the track.
"I had a good race car, I just had to come from deep every time. We will take it and move on. It was a good points day and we will keep fighting,” Bowman stated.
After two events in 2023, Bowman sits third in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings. While it's extremely early, and the sample size to go off of is quite small, Bowman and the No. 48 team are really firing on all cylinders to start the season.
To put it in perspective, Bowman sits 21 positions higher in the championship standings after Fontana 2023 than he was after Fontana 2022.
Bowman's average finish in the opening two races is much improved as well at 6.5 compared to 24.5 a year ago. That is a staggering difference.
With the confidence that his team will most likely bring another well-prepared car to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there also has to be extra confidence for Bowman for this weekend's race as he scored the victory in this event a season ago.
The way Bowman has been performing in his opening two races with Harris on the pit box, I don't think it would surprise many to see the Arizona native reach paydirt again this weekend at LVMS.
Photo Credit: Andrew Coppley / HHP for Chevy Racing