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Playoff driver Alex Bowman looks for Richmond repeat

Get an inside look at a chaotic 2021 Southern 500 for Hendrick Motorsports, as Alex Bowman and William Byron find themselves on the playoff bubble along with Kyle Busch after all three wrecked at Darlington.

Last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener at Darlington Raceway was a lowlight for many title contenders.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman was one of them.

“It wasn’t good by any means,” Bowman said in a Wednesday media teleconference. “From start to finish, we had radio issues, trouble with the engine, I drove it into the fence, and we had another flat tire after that.

“It was just kind of one of those days.”

Bowman finished a disappointing 26th. But with so much attrition among the title contenders - including teammates William Byron and Chase Elliott, who both crashed - the damage in the playoff standings was somewhat mitigated.

Entering Saturday’s second race of the Round of 16 at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Bowman and Tyler Reddick are tied on the cutline to advance. By finishing 18th at Darlington, Reddick holds the tiebreaker over Bowman of better finish in the round.

Getting solid results at Richmond and the Sept. 18 elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway is now paramount for Bowman and his fellow Hendrick drivers who suffered at Darlington.

“It definitely wasn’t a great mood after Darlington,” Bowman admitted. “But I feel like everybody is focused forward and working hard to be the best we can be at Richmond.

“It was one race. It’s one week. The playoffs, the way it goes, you have two bad weeks in one round, and you are kind of done. So, we know we have to be strong the next two weeks. But at the same time, we’ve been strong all year. I think there is a lot of confidence going forward that we can continue to do that.”

This past April at Richmond, Bowman upended a dominant performance by Denny Hamlin to earn his first of three wins in 2021 (Dover, Pocono 1).

Exceptional long run speed helped Bowman rise from a mid-pack starting position (24th) and overcome a pit road penalty (Lap 240 - uncontrolled tire).

But it wasn’t until the very end of the race that Bowman had the short run speed he needed to win.

Adjustments from crew chief Greg Ives gave him the ability to pass Joey Logano for second off the restart with 12 laps to go, then hunt down and pass Hamlin for the lead two laps later.

When asked if having more consistent short run speed was being emphasized for the return race, Bowman said it was “definitely nice to have” in April, but he’d prefer having long run speed again.

“I don’t know that we completely made up what we lost in the beginning of the run to (Logano) and (Hamlin), so, maybe splitting the difference a little bit if we can (this time),” Bowman said. “But if you ask me, I would rather be good on the long runs every time, especially at a place like that where the tire wear is so high.

“If you’re good on the long run, typically, it makes it really easy to pass at the end of the run because guys start struggling so bad with tire wear. I enjoy that aspect, managing tires, dealing with the race car in the long run because it goes through such a swing of how it drives.”

As for whether he’s expecting more chaos to ensue at Richmond, Bowman felt it was “hard to say” but noted the typical trope of short track tempers.

If there is drama, he wants no part of it.

“Maybe it’s a smooth and easy day and the No. 48 is out front with no issues, and we get another trophy,” he said. “I’d be okay with that.”