Tucson’s Alex Bowman Gambles for a Wild Chicago Street Course Victory

(AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

The second attempt at NASCAR’s music festival, race weekend, and party in the streets of Downtown Chicago concluded with a desert driver celebrating in the rain. Tucson’s Alex Bowman made a Vegas-style gamble on Sunday to put Hendrick Motorsports in victory lane at one of NASCAR’s most unique events.

After a biblical rain tried to dampen the mood of the Chicago Street Race’s inaugural run in 2023, NASCAR eyed a sunshine-filled 4th of July weekend in 2024 for the Grant Park 165. That was until Mother Nature scattered rain clouds over the temporary street circuit just before Sunday’s scheduled start time for the NASCAR Cup Series. Defending event winner, Shane Van Gisbergen, and polesitter, Kyle Larson, paced the field once the precipitation subsided but each of them would have their races ended early in separate incidents. 

Mother Nature reared her unforgiving rain once more and forced a nearly two-hour rain delay around the halfway point. As Stage 2 came to a conclusion and the caution was waived, Bowman sat in second place behind sports car driver, Joey Hand. With the track still damp, Bowman made the gamble to stay on NASCAR’s wet weather, treaded tire, while almost three-quarters of the field optioned for the standard slick tire. With dusk closing in on a course lit only by street lights, NASCAR went to the rulebook and opted for the drivers to race against the clock till 8:20 p.m. local time in an attempt to conclude the race before conditions became too dark.

Bowman was able to out-race Hand for the lead and held off a hard-charging Tyler Reddick in the closing minutes to claim victory for the eighth time in his Cup Series career. Fellow Arizonan, Michael McDowell fought throughout the day for a stellar fifth-place finish. The race ended on Lap 58 of a scheduled 75 due to darkness.

The win marks Bowman’s first visit to victory lane since March 6, 2022, at Las Vegas and snaps an 80-race winless streak for the 10-year veteran. All four of Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolets have now claimed a checkered flag in 2024.

Bowman succeeded seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, following his retirement at the conclusion of the 2020 season. The Tucson native would lead the team back to a sense of its former glory, claiming four victories in 2021. But the hurdles of a concussion in 2022 and a broken back in 2023 forced Bowman and the No. 48 team to stumble with only one race win in 2022 before an 80-race winless streak shrouded the team.

“Man, I broke my back, had a brain injury, and we’ve kind of sucked ever since, and I didn’t – you start to second-guess if you’re ever going to get a chance to win a race again.

“Last one we won, we didn’t really get to celebrate. We’re going to drink so much damn bourbon tonight, it’s going to be a bad deal. I’m probably going to wake up naked on the bathroom floor again. That’s just part of this deal sometimes. … It’s going to be a good night.”

Bowman attended Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson and raced both pavement and dirt open-wheel cars, including in the final night of the legendary Phoenix race track, Manzanita Speedway. Bowman became the first-ever Arizonan to claim a Cup Series with a win at NASCAR’s former Chicago-based track, Chicagoland Speedway in June of 2019.

After the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017, Bowman was called upon to take the seat of the No. 88 and scored the 2018 Daytona 500 pole in his first full season with the team.

In what could be the biggest win of Bowman’s career, the 31-year-old has nearly solidified a NASCAR Playoff spot with just six races remaining in the regular season. The NASCAR Playoffs is an elimination bracket-style postseason that takes place in the final ten races of the season with the championship at Phoenix Raceway. Bowman can clinch a spot in the Playoffs with a second win this season or by being in the top-16 in points of drivers with at least one victory. 

NASCAR is back on track next Sunday at Pocono Speedway in Pennsylvania and will return to Arizona for NASCAR Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway to crown four champions in the ARCA Menards West Series, Craftsman Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series over three days from November 8-10.