CONCORD, N.C. - Behind the wheel of a car on something other than a virtual race track for the first time in nearly a year, Alex Bowman warmed up for the #88 Hendrick Motorsports ride he'll inherit next season with a stunning victory in Saturday night's rain-delayed Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Behind Bowman, who won for the first time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Ryan Reed soldiered home in 12th place, one position behind Brendan Gaughan. But Reed moved on to the XFINITY Playoff's Round of 8 by one point over Gaughan, who was eliminated along with Jeremy Clements (20th on Saturday), Blake Koch (25th) and Michael Annett (27th).
Reed joins Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Brennan Poole, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, William Byron and Matt Tifft in the Round of 8, with the series set to resume competition Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway.
Bowman, who hadn't raced since his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup / XFINITY Series doubleheader last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, finished 1.390 seconds ahead of part-timer Sam Hornish Jr., who passed Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney in the closing laps for the second position. The start was Hornish's fifth of the season
The car Bowman drove to victory in a race that started five hours late because of persistent rain was the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, under an agreement with Hendrick Motorsports. Since his last races at Homestead, Bowman has spent the bulk of his time driving simulators for HMS.
"I can't thank Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and Chip Ganassi enough for letting me drive this car," said Bowman, who will succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevy in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year. "To get my first win here at my second home in Charlotte means so such.
"Thank you so much to all the fans for sticking out this rain delay. It's been a long time since I've raced. My pit stops were terrible. I didn't do a good job on pit road, but I felt like my restarts were really good. It feels amazing to finally get us one."
With Bowman pulling out to a sizable lead after the final restart on Lap 167, the real suspense involved Gaughan and Reed, who were locked in an intense battle for the final playoff position. Gaughan passed Reed for 12th on Lap 181 of 200, but needed one more position to stay alive in the Playoff.
Gaughan passed Byron for 11th, but Reed followed. As Gaughan chased Sadler for 10th, Reed had to ward off a challenge from Brandon Jones, Gaughan's teammate at Richard Childress Racing. Gaughan ran out of time in his pursuit of Sadler, who was on older tires, and the last playoff spot belonged to Reed.
"We were getting the 1 (Sadler), but we need Brandon to get in front of (Reed), but a good run," Gaughan said. "We had a decent season, but I wouldn't say great. We're going to go on and try to see if we can win a couple of races...
"Nothing ever comes easy around me and (crew chief) Shane Wilson, but we wouldn't want it any other way."
Though he qualified for the Round of 8, Tifft had his share of nervous moments. On Lap 99, he came to pit road complaining of a vibration, incurred a penalty for a runaway tire and lost a lap. But Tifft regained the lead circuit under caution for Erik Jones' spin on Lap 121 and salvaged a ninth-place result.
"We've been fighting back from a lot of difficult situations," Tifft said. "We were able to put our MotoRad Camry back in the top 10 today, and we had so much stuff going on today.
"Really excited about our chances in the second round, and we're riding the right wave right now, and I feel like we're getting things clicking between the team and I right now. So it's a good time for us right now, and it was a good fight today for sure."
Note: Justin Allgaier, who entered the race as the series leader, hit a battery that fell from Angela Ruch's car when Ruch spun in Turn 2 for the second time. Allgaier's engine overheated and finally expired, relegating the JR Motorsports driver to a 33rd-place finish.
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---