Close But No Cigar For Daytona Runner-Up Bowman

Bowman

Alex Bowman (48) races teammate William Byron during the closing laps of the Daytona 500 Monday. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As his teammate William Byron celebrated in victory lane Monday night as the winner of the 66th Daytona 500, Alex Bowman stood on pit road with a pensive look on his face.

He’d just come inches shy of winning the Great American Race, side-by-side with Byron at Daytona Int’l Speedway as the yellow flag waved on the final lap, with most of the cars that had survived to the end crashing behind them.

However, as the old adage goes, “Close only counts in horseshoes.”

Contact between Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric coming to the white flag sent the pair skidding through the infield grass and then up into traffic, sparking a multi-car accident that forced NASCAR officials to call a caution out of safety for the drivers involved.

So, instead of celebrating with the Harley J. Earl Trophy in victory lane at the World Center of Racing, Bowman was left to wonder what might have been. He got the run he needed to go to war with Byron, only to have the rug pulled out from under him thanks to the race-ending incident in the tri-oval.

It was still a big night – as Byron delivered Hendrick Motorsports a Daytona 500 victory on the 40th anniversary of the team’s first Cup Series start – but it wasn’t quite the result Bowman hoped for.

“I’m proud of William and his team – they deserved it there at the end. They did all the right things, and I feel like we did too there right at the end,” Bowman explained. “I had to go up and block the top lane … and that just killed the middle for a bit. We got the middle back rolling and then they all started crashing.”

Oddly enough, the last caution wasn’t the most interesting one for the Hendrick Motorsports pair that ultimately ended up first and second in the final rundown.

It was the caution prior, with nine laps left, that set up the eventual outcome after Bowman got Byron out of shape and sent him down into the right-rear corner of Brad Keselowski’s Ford on the backstretch.

That contact hooked Keselowski into the oncoming pack, sparking a 23-car melee that eliminated most of the top contenders –as Byron and Bowman both, somehow, escaped without any meaningful damage.

“I couldn’t even see far enough (ahead) to see that Byron hitting Keselowski is what started it,” Bowman said of the lap-192 accident. “I knew I had William in a spot that I didn’t want to have him in. But we were all just sort of sandwiched up there.

“I was lifting to try to get off him once he was aimed the wrong place. But we’re all just shoving each other at that point,” Bowman added. “That’s what speedway racing has kind of become. If it [was] my fault, I didn’t mean to crash anybody, by any means.”

But, realistically, there was little that either Bowman or Byron could have done differently in that moment.

“When you start getting bounced around like that, you’re a little bit along for the ride,” Bowman noted.

As others have said before at the Daytona 500, “second sucks” at the end of the Great American Race.

Bowman tried to see a silver lining in the final result, as it was his career-best finish in nine career Daytona 500 attempts, but couldn’t escape the heartache of “What if?”

“I’d rather be second than crash,” Bowman said. “I would have liked to just race for it.

“It’s awesome to see [Hendrick Motorsports] get a one-two finish, but being this close to winning the Daytona 500, it certainly hurts. But 30th would [have] probably hurt a lot worse.”

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.