Being a rookie in the NASCAR Nationwide Series is hard enough. Trying to conquer the Talladega Superspeedway? Let’s not even go that far. Just making it to the finish is a giant accomplishment, especially when the driver has only been on a superspeedway three times including being involved in two accidents.
Alex Bowman, 20, is set to make his second superspeedway start in NASCAR’s second-tier series. Bowman drives for RAB Racing in the No. 99 Toyota Camry and is currently second in NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie-of-the-year standings, just six points behind Kyle Larson and 11th overall in the points standings as of Richmond.
Bowman’s time with RAB Racing has gone well to say the least. He’s exceeding most expectations set before the season had begun as he’s won a pole and racked up two top-10’s through the first seven races this year. His RAB Racing team is led by veteran crew chief, Chris Rice, who’s been atop the pit box in the Nationwide Series since 2003 with Scott Wimmer.
This weekend, as the team prepares for Talladega, Rice has prepared one of his best cars for Bowman at Talladega. The RAB Racing crew has prepared chassis No. 51 this weekend, the same one that the team used in their 2012 attempt at the Daytona 500 with Kenny Wallace. They were on pace to qualify for the race, but midway through their Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race, they experienced issues with the EFI system which they had never used before.
“This is the first time (we’re using it) but the issues we had last year were all EFI issues and in the Nationwide Series we don’t use EFI so we shouldn’t have those issues,” Rice said, who’s trying to win his second career NASCAR sanctioned event in 221 starts as crew chief. “We started working on that car on December 11th as of last year and we took it as a backup to Daytona. It takes about a month and a half to completely turn a car from a Cup car to a Nation-wide car.”
In order to turn the car over from a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series vehicle, the team had to modify numerous parts, including the entire body as well as replace the radiator in order to make it eligible for NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. The car hasn’t been on track since last year, but was prepared as a backup for Daytona in February as they started to reconstruct the car on December 11.
“We approach every race the same, the only difference is during practice I’m going to work on just single car runs and not doing any drafting because during the qualifying, I don’t want the bumper or the nose to be hurt. We’re approaching Talladega different than Daytona. We ran well with the two car tandem over there, so we’ll just practice single car runs,” Rice stated as he’s trying to figure out the right method to approach this weekend’s event.
Bowman doesn’t have much superspeedway experience, but he did finish third in the wreck fest at Daytona. This shows that he’s capable of avoiding wrecks, which is one of Rice’s keys to winning this weekend. Rice believes that Bowman should be able to run in the top-10 all day as he will either work with Parker Kligerman or one of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars in the tandem draft.
“We’ve had some really good super speedway cars in my career. Kenny Wallace drove probably the best one I’ve ever had. But, the one thing I’ve learned is that you have to keep the motor cool the entire day to be able to make it to the end, which is the biggest thing we’ve worked on. Making sure the motor stays cool and keeping water in it all day, then we can race at the end. If you don’t do that, you can’t make it to the end of the race,” said Rice who nearly won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona last year with Travis Kvapil in a RAB Racing truck.
Rice believes that his team has done well this year with the exception of short tracks. He feels that Bowman needs to develop just a bit more, but has done a great job to this point. The team also ran two cars for the first time and may do so full-time next year.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.