DOVER, Del. – Moments after he smoked the field at Dover, Alex Bowman channeled fictional goofball NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby as flames simmered under the left rear of his Chevy.
“Help me Tom Cruise, I’m on fire,” he said, quoting a popular line from “Talladega Nights.”
At Hendrick Motorsports, if you ain't first, you're, well, at Dover it was second, third and fourth.
Bowman parked the No. 48 Chevrolet in its familiar spot in victory lane at Dover International Speedway, leading a 1-2-3-4 finish for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday.
Bowman — who described himself as a “race car driver slash weirdo” — led Hendrick to only the fourth top-four sweep by a single team in NASCAR Cup Series history. Kyle Larson led a race-high 263 laps and finished second, Chase Elliott was third and William Byron fourth.
The milestones kept coming at the Monster Mile. Hendrick Motorsports won its 267th career NASCAR race, one shy of the team record held by Petty Enterprises.
“I want to be the guy that get those wins for Mr. H,” Bowman said.
Not so fast, said Larson.
“I hope I'm the driver to do it,” Larson said.
Bowman — who added he's “had my share of doubters” throughout his career — won his second race of the season and passed 1,000 laps led in his career. But the victory celebration at the Monster Mile had to seem familiar for Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion now in IndyCar, won a track-record 11 times at Dover in the 48.
Turns out, Johnson’s successor is just as adept at handling the rigors of the concrete mile track.
“I try to run the Jimmie Johnson line,” Bowman said.
Bowman has followed two of NASCAR’s biggest superstars, first taking the wheel of the No. 88 after Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired and made the move to the 48 this season.
He’s tried to escape their large shadows by doing things his own way — though after early struggles in his career at Dover, he texted Johnson for tips that he followed to this day.
“You can't be Jimmie Johnson light,” Hendrick said. “You've got to be Alex Bowman.”
Bowman and crew chief Greg Ives put their spin into the game plan and flawless pit road execution help the 48 win this season for the first time since April at Richmond. Bowman joined Martin Truex Jr. as the only driver this season with multiple victories.
Joey Logano of Joe Gibbs Racing was the best of the rest in fifth.
A year after fans were not allowed to attend and Dover held two Cup races on the same weekend, a sellout crowd of 20,000 fans was announced at the Monster Mile and they were ready to bust loose. Going mostly maskless — though Miles the Monster wore his — fans formed a deep line at the Chase Elliott souvenir hauler inside the fan zone. Dover also partnered with the Delaware Division of Public Health and about 100 fans received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine on Sunday and another 50 or so did the same a day earlier during the Xfinity race. While 20,000 fans were certainly dwarfed by the six-figure crowds that jammed Dover in the early aughts, this crowd was more festive compared to recent years. At least one fan in the grandstands dressed as Kyle Busch, others hugged and chugged beers, and some were comfortable asking strangers to snap photos as they posed for pictures in front of the 46-foot, car-crushing Monster statue.
They watched Larson lead a parade for all but a handful of laps into the third stage. Larson, who on Saturday made a virtual visit with students at the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia, won the first two stages of the race and seemed poised to turn this race into a rout.
Bowman spoiled the run when he beat the No. 5 off pit road thanks to a 12-second stop and led the final 98 laps — one more reason why Hendrick is on the brink of signing the 28-year-old driver to a multi-year contract extension.
“I want to be there. They want me to drive their race cars,” Bowman said.
HMS. Hendrick joined Peter DePaolo Racing (1956 at Titusville and 1957 at North Wilkesboro) and Roush Fenway Racing (2005 Homestead-Miami Speedway) as the only race teams to claim the top four spots in a Cup race. HMS led 382 of the 400 laps at Dover.
Aric Almirola’s woeful season continued at Dover when his No. 10 Ford slammed into the wall with less than 100 laps left in the race. Almirola crashed out for the second straight week and the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has only one top-10 finish in 2021.
“My body’s hurting,” Almirola said. “It doesn’t want to take any more hard hits like that.”
DOVER AND OUT
Dover wrapped its only NASCAR weekend of the season. The track traditionally held two NASCAR weekends but moved one race date to Nashville Superspeedway. Nashville will have a Cup race on June 20. The 1.33-mile concrete track was built in 2001 by Dover Motorsports and hosted NASCAR and IndyCar events until 2011. Nashville Superspeedway held Xfinity and Truck events, as well as IndyCar races from 2001 until 2011. Dover hosted one race weekend in 1969 and 1970 and then held two races every season from 1971 to 2020.
NASCAR heads to Texas and the Circuit of the Americas for a road course race. COTA joined Indianapolis and Road America in rural Wisconsin as new road course events on a 2021 schedule that already included Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports