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Alex Bowman had his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at full song to win the Busch Pole Award in Wednesday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session. One night later, that same car faltered in the Bluegrass Vacation Duel.
Bowman dropped off the pace midway through Thursday’s first 150-mile qualifying race, and the crew raised the hood on the No. 48 Chevy. More unscheduled pit stops followed, and Bowman finished four laps down, 20th in the 22-car field.
“Definitely a bummer there,” Bowman said.” We had something going on and a big vibration with the car. We had some radio issues and couldn‘t hear anyone. We have a clean race car for Sunday and have time to diagnosis that vibration. There is definitely something going on, but it looks like the engine is good which is the important thing.
“The Hendrick Motorsports engine shop does a great job with our engines and that thing is totally fine. We just have something going on that is shaking the car, so we just have to figure that out.”
Bowman locked up the No. 1 starting spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM), sealing an all-Hendrick sweep with teammate William Byron second in the No. 24 Chevrolet. Only an engine change or another unapproved adjustment would drop him to the rear for the NASCAR Cup Series’ season opener.
Bowman started first in the opening Duel but did not lead a lap as eventual race winner Aric Almirola took control. Once Bowman’s problems arose near the halfway point and with only stage points on the line, No. 48 crew chief Greg Ives went into diagnosis mode.
“Obviously, we were trying to run as hard as we could there at the beginning of the race,” Ives said. “We wanted to try to stay in the draft and understand what the handling was. He felt it handled fine and then went toward the back of the pack. Alex felt and heard something in the engine which turned into a vibration in the chassis. Being a non-points race and being locked in, it allowed us to do some things that would make us a few laps down.
“We talked through engine diagnostics and sent some guys over pit wall who don‘t normally go over the wall. Our Ally Racing team was able to go through some tire sets to make sure it wasn‘t that. There were a lot of things you always think you are going to be prepared for until you actually go through them. I feel like we did a good job understanding it and hopefully we are able to diagnose it and make sure everything is good.”
Chad Knaus, in his first year as Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition, said Friday morning the No. 48 car had been impounded until after the second Duel qualifying race. With no on-track activity scheduled for the Cup Series on Friday, Knaus said the diagnostic work would continue until Saturday’s two 50-minute practice shakedowns.
“We think the engine’s OK, but it’s undecided just yet,” Knaus said. “… We’ve got two practice sessions (Saturday), so we’ll take a look inside of it today with the borescope and see if we see any issues like a scored piston or something weird like that. But if we don’t see any issues, we’ll go out and practice and make a decision (Saturday).”