The first three weeks of the NASCAR Cup Series season saw many drivers losing control of Gen 7 cars during practice, qualifying or battling for track position. Now Las Vegas winner Alex Bowman has explained why top drivers have struggled with the incidents.
The driver of the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro gave a pre-trip preview at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He explained that the cars aren’t exactly harder to drive overall. There are only certain factors that eliminate any room for error each week, resulting in wall crashes.
“It’s interesting because they’re not necessarily harder to drive, they’re harder to predict and save if something goes wrong,” Bowman said. “I think when it comes to driving the race car, they’re quite similar. They’re just a lot more jumpy than they’ve been in the past. Like old cars, you can slide, and when you lose grip you can usually save the cars.
“The new car is a much finer line. As soon as the car loses grip, it usually ends up crashing. You don’t really have a chance to save him. So just try to find that balance of how hard you can actually drive the car, basically. Instead of driving the car really hard the whole race, you’re kind of like backing up and not running as hard. So it’s just different.
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This fine line played a major role in Bowman’s trip to Victory Lane on March 6. Kyle Busch was in the lead with three laps to go at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it looked like he would be holding off Martin Truex Jr. and Ross Chastain the entire time. way to the checkered flag. However, the situation changed with belated caution.
Erik Jones lost control of No. 43 and slammed into the wall, destroying the right side of his stock car. He took out the warning and sent the drivers to pit road for fresh tyres. Busch, Truex and Chastain all took four while Bowman, Kyle Larson and William Byron all opted for two tires in order to take the top spots.
Bowman and Larson lined up in the front row and battled through the two extra laps. The #48 driver edged his teammate into the final corner and beat Larson to the finish line to lock in his playoff spot.
Cars caused Bowman to change his approach
The #48 driver spent the first three weeks of the season adjusting to a major change. New cars aren’t necessarily made for the setup he prefers, especially on intermediate tracks, so he had to change his approach and follow some of his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
“Yeah, for me, I think it changes things up a bit,” Bowman added. “I really like a loose race car. I like to ride with the right rear tire way more than my teammates. I’m always way looser than them to be happy with my car. So I had to go back to zero and trying to figure out how to go more in their direction and drive a tighter race car, which I never liked.
“You look at Kyle Larson, and that’s his wheelhouse. He likes to be super tight. I can’t stand it. I was like, ‘I want the rear of the car to lead the front of the car.’ So trying to figure out how to change the balance that I’m looking for and do a better job with a tighter race car was the most important thing.
Having a loose race car has helped Bowman in the past. He used this setup on the 2020 trip to Auto Club Speedway and put in a dominating performance. Fast forward to 2022, and he had to run a tighter setup after learning that dragging the new cars leads to less downforce and, ultimately, spins.
Bowman expects some small teams to make noise
As a member of a powerful organization, Bowman contributed to many victories during his run as a full-time pilot. However, only one member of HMS has reached Victory Lane in the 2022 season so far, while smaller teams have entered the fray.
Drivers such as Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all posted top-10 finishes in the opening weeks of the season while competing against Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
Bowman said he expects that trend to continue through the first half of the season. He thinks the smaller teams will be vying for victories early – and potentially reaching Victory Lane – before some of the bigger teams with more resources start to figure things out.
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