NASCAR’s Bowman drives on, shrugs off Hamlin ‘hack’ label

Nov 2, 2021, 2:02 AM | Updated: 2:05 pm
Alex Bowman, left, is congratulated by Jeff Gordon after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sun...

Alex Bowman, left, is congratulated by Jeff Gordon after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Va. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

              Alex Bowman (48) leads the field during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Va. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
            
              Alex Bowman (48) celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Va. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
            
              Alex Bowman, left, is congratulated by Jeff Gordon after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Va. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
            
              Denny Hamlin (11) prevents Alex Bowman (48) from doing a celebratory burnout after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Va. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Alex Bowman had barely finished his post-victory obligations and his online merchandise store was already taking orders for a simple black T-shirt with the word “HACK” printed across the front in block purple letters.

If a star of the sport is going to call you a hack on live television — twice, with a pair of curse words sprinkled in — might as well make some money off of the episode.

Bowman infuriated championship contender Denny Hamlin with six laps remaining Sunday at Martinsville Speedway when he spun Hamlin out of the lead. It sent the race into overtime, which Bowman won for his fourth victory of the season. Hamlin then blocked Bowman’s car on the frontstretch to prevent a proper celebration.

It was Hamlin’s post-race assessment of Bowman that really irked the folks at Hendrick Motorsports. Bowman has insisted the contact that spun Hamlin from the lead was accidental, but Hamlin still attacked Bowman’s talent level.

“Look, he’s won four races this year. Denny’s won two,” team owner Rick Hendrick said Tuesday. “I think Denny just lost it Sunday. Alex races everybody clean. He’s a good soldier. The sponsors love him. The crowd loves him. I think when you’re in the middle of a disappointment and you’re frustrated and mad, you might say things that you wouldn’t say normally.

“If he’s a hack, I’d like to have more of ’em.”

The championship will be decided Sunday at sold-out Phoenix Raceway, where Hendrick has two of his four drivers into the winner-take-all finale. Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott and title favorite Kyle Larson in a pair of Chevrolets will square off against Toyotas driven by teammates Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing.

So in that regard, Hamlin was somewhat correct when he said Bowman “gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week.” Bowman, who was eliminated from the playoffs at the end of the second round, didn’t really deny that part of Hamlin’s critique.

“These last couple months have been painful. It’s been so frustrating. Honestly, our teammates have kicked our butts for quite a while now,” he said.

But that discredits how far Bowman has come since he sat out most of 2016 and 2017 because he was tired of driving underperforming cars and wanted to work his way in with a powerhouse team. He got a break with Hendrick Motorsports in 2016 when he drove 10 races as the injury replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

He spent most of 2017 testing and doing simulator work for Hendrick, then was named the replacement for Earnhardt when he retired ahead of the 2018 season. Bowman drove on a series of short-term contracts but built a following, won a pair of races and scored the first major sponsor of his NASCAR career.

Ally was captivated by the 28-year-old and wanted Bowman to move into the No. 48 to replace seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson this season.

Bowman has delivered: His four victories, eight top-five finishes and 16 top 10s are all career bests, and Bowman was given a two-year contract extension through the 2023 season in June.

Jeff Andrews, the executive vice president and general manager at Hendrick Motorsports, simply laughed at Hamlin’s hack comment. So did Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett, the 1999 Cup champion.

“If that’s what you want to call him, he’s the best damn hack I’ve ever seen drive a car,” Jarrett said.

Andrews is part of the weekly competition meetings at Hendrick and sees Bowman interact with his teammates and the executive leadership team. Just because he didn’t make it to the championship four does not diminish what Bowman and crew chief Greg Ives have accomplished this season.

“By any stature in this sport, by any race team, whether you’re in the championship four or not, we are super proud of what Greg and Alex have done this year,” said Andrews, who added Bowman could pick up his fifth win of the season Sunday at his home-state track.

The Tucson native earned his first career Cup pole at Phoenix in his first race driving for Hendrick in 2016. He led 194 laps that day before finishing sixth and would love his first career win at home. He desperately wants to build consistency and find a way to contend for the title alongside his teammates.

For now, he’s committed to donating proceeds from the sale of the “HACK” shirts to local animal shelters — that’s been his charitable cause — and move on from his tussle with Hamlin.

“I don’t like drama. I’m pretty shy and keep to myself, do my own thing. This isn’t the most comfortable situation for me,” Bowman said. “I think the last thing (Hamlin) wants is for us two to continue anything next week.”

Even as Bowman attempts to quash this beef with Hamlin, he understands highlights of their Martinsville tangle will follow both into next year.

“Big picture, at the end of the day, we’re not really race car drivers at some point … we’re entertainers,” Bowman said. “Whether you loved it or hated it, you’re mad about it, you’re jumping for joy, a lot of people were probably pretty dang entertained. Hopefully it’s good for the sport. I think rivalries are good for the sport.”

___

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou grabs the ball during the World Cup group F soccer match between ...
Associated Press

Where’d he go? Morocco goalie disappears at World Cup game

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou mysteriously disappeared before kickoff of his team’s World Cup game against Belgium on Sunday. Bounou was named in the starting lineup, came out with his team and sang the national anthem before kickoff as usual. But, when the game started, reserve keeper Monir El Kajoui was in […]
1 day ago
Brazil's Neymar, left, his fouled by Serbia's Nemanja Gudelj during the World Cup group G soccer ma...
Associated Press

Neymar working ’24 hours a day’ to return at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Neymar is working “24 hours a day” to try to recover from his ankle injury and play again at the World Cup, Brazil teammate Marquinhos said Sunday. Neymar damaged ligaments in his right ankle in the team’s 2-0 opening win over Serbia on Thursday and will miss the match against Switzerland […]
1 day ago
A plane flies over the Crescent Tower Lusail during sunrise in Lusail, Qatar, Thursday, Nov. 24, 20...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Qatar bustles with traditional and tourist stops

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The winding cobbled alleys of Souq Waqif create a labyrinthine bazaar stuffed with dozens of small stores hawking spices and perfumes, scented oils, silk scarves, shimmering crystal chandeliers and glittering jewelry. The Qatari capital’s oldest souq also features shisha lounges, antique stores, art galleries, restaurants and a stop where shoppers can […]
1 day ago
Iran's head coach Carlos Queiroz reacts during the World Cup group B soccer match between Wales and...
Associated Press

Queiroz slams Klinsmann’s criticism of Iran’s World Cup team

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Iranian soccer federation and national team coach Carlos Queiroz have angrily hit back at former Germany great Jürgen Klinsmann for saying that Iran’s World Cup players use dirty tactics because its in their “culture.” Both the federation and Queiroz on Sunday called for Klinsmann to resign from FIFA’s technical study […]
1 day ago
France's Raphael Varane, second right, goes for a header during the World Cup group D soccer match ...
Associated Press

Varane’s return lifts French mood even higher at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Kylian Mbappe’s goals took defending champion France into the knockout round of the World Cup. Raphael Varane’s return gave the French camp an added reason to celebrate. The pre-tournament injury blues are fading, Les Bleus are feeling upbeat again and looking like one of the tournament favorites. Mbappe’s two goals in […]
1 day ago
Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium is seen after owners the Glazer family announced they are ...
Associated Press

Why are Man United and Liverpool suddenly on the market?

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — English soccer’s two most storied teams are suddenly in play. Manchester United has joined great rival Liverpool in opening its doors to a potential buyout that could be the biggest in sporting history. Following the sale of Chelsea in May, it sets up the prospect of three of the biggest Premier […]
1 day ago
NASCAR’s Bowman drives on, shrugs off Hamlin ‘hack’ label