LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Alex Bowman helplessly watched teammate Kyle Larson zip past him in the waning laps at Pocono and apologized to his crew over the radio for blowing the lead.
Larson’s blown tire cost him so much more. Larson’s left front tire went down when his Chevrolet ran over debris less than a mile from the finish — and a fourth straight win in sight — that stunningly slammed NASCAR’s hottest driver into the wall.
Ah, so a flat tire is how you beat Kyle Larson.
Bowman had a second chance in a flash and this time would not waste the lead. This is how the last two months have rolled for Hendrick Motorsports — when one driver falters, another one finds a way to victory lane.
Bowman made it six straight wins for Hendrick, and the shredded tire denied Larson’s bid for a fourth straight Cup victory Saturday at Pocono Raceway. Bowman was in stunned disbelief as he crossed the line for for his third win of the season.
“This is the strangest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Bowman said.
Larson laughed at his misfortune. He won three straight Cup races and was in prime position for another at Pocono when he passed Bowman with three laps left in the race. Larson was maybe a mile away from becoming the first driver since former Hendrick champion Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to win four consecutive Cup races. Instead, the tire went down on the last corner of the last lap and knocked Larson out of contention.
Bowman went from tough-luck loser to unlikely-winner on the 2 1/2-mile tri-oval track.
Larson said he might have run over debris to cause the tire issue. Bowman was in the right spot to take advantage — from apology to victory — and won for the third time in his last 10 races. He won at Dover and Richmond.
“We got pretty lucky there with Kyle’s misfortune,” Bowman said.
Bowman recently signed a two-year contract extension at Hendrick and wasted little time rewarding their faith in him.
For team owner Rick Hendrick, the wins keep coming.
Bowman started the win streak in May at Dover and Chase Elliott followed the next week at Texas. Larson then ripped off three straight points victories at Charlotte, Sonoma and last week at Nashville — and squeezed in the $1 million All-Star race for four wins, total — all while Hendrick Motorsports became the winningest organization in NASCAR history. All eyes were on Larson as he tried to match Johnson for the longest winning streak this century.
Larson faded to ninth.
“Disbelief, still,” Larson said. “Hate that we didn’t get another win. It would have been cool to win five in a row. I felt something in the middle of the tunnel. I wasn’t sure what it was yet. It finally kind of shredded halfway through that little short shoot there.”
Hendrick has nine wins overall this season and tied its team record for consecutive wins set in 2007.
Bowman won the first of two Cup races this weekend at Pocono.
He just didn’t really get to enjoy the spoils of victory like a burnout in his No. 48 Chevy.
“I typically drink all the beers,” he said. “Can’t do that because I have to race the car tomorrow.”
Crew chief Greg Ives laughed as he complained he was wet because champagne was poured down his shirt.
“You’re welcome,” Bowman said.
John Hunter Nemechek won the Truck race earlier Saturday to kick off a packed Pocono schedule. The Xfinity Series races Sunday followed by the second Cup race. Pocono the site of the only NASCAR doubleheader this season with Saturday’s race run at 325 miles and Saturday set for 350 miles.
NASCAR will invert the order of the top-20 finishers for the start of Sunday’s race. Chris Buescher, who won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2016, starts on the pole. The bottom 18 finishers will start in the same spot.
Bowman is in his sixth full season of Cup racing and his fourth with Hendrick. He never had more than one win in a season and seemingly put all the tools together — with a little luck — to have a breakout season.
Kyle Busch was second, followed by William Byron, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney.
Larson starts Sunday in a backup car and will drop to the rear of the field. He’s scheduled to visit with students from the Urban Youth Racing School, the Philly-based program that creates opportunities in racing for minorities and extended an olive branch last year to Larson when he was suspended for using a racial slur while racing online in April 2020.
“We’ll try and start another streak tomorrow,” Larson said.
AIR UP THERE
Michael Jordan was at the race. Jordan and Hamlin launched the 23XI Racing team this season with Bubba Wallace as the driver. Jordan, who attended with long-time friend Ahmad Rashad, met briefly with NASCAR President Steve Phelps on the grid. Wallace finished 14th in NASCAR’s first race with CBD as the title sponsor.
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