Alex Bowman raced to his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday, holding off Kyle and Kurt Busch at Fontana.
The win was the culmination of a tremendously encouraging weekend for Bowman, who has run 156 Cup races without extraordinary success. He is in the final year of his contract with Hendrick Motorsports.
But his No. 88 Chevrolet felt like the fastest car on this weathered, wide asphalt from the moment they unloaded — and Bowman decisively proved he knew what to do with it.
Bowman led 110 laps and managed to stay out front after the final pit stops before cruising to the checkered flag in a smooth, fairly uneventful race featuring only one caution outside of the stage breaks.
Defending Fontana champion Kyle Busch was 8.9 seconds behind in second place in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. His older brother Kurt was third, and Bowman teammate Chase Elliott came in fourth.
Six-time Fontana champion Jimmie Johnson finished seventh after running near the front for most of his final race as a full-time driver at the NASCAR track closest to his native El Cajon, California, about 100 miles away. His winless streak is at a career-worst 98 races, but he showed impressive pace before his Hendrick teammate took charge of the race.
Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin finished sixth after starting at the back when he changed a shock absorber before the start. Hamlin then put Kyle Larson into the wall during the first stage with a bump from behind, and Larson needed significant repairs.
The crew chiefs of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece were ejected after NASCAR found illegal body modifications on the cars, which had to drop to the rear on the pace laps.
Ryan Blaney is the overall points leader even after finishing 19th at Fontana. He led 54 laps and was in contention to chase down Bowman before he was forced to the pits with three laps left by a tire issue.
Clint Bowyer finished 23rd after starting on the pole. That’s a typical hazard at Fontana, where the cars that perform best in qualifying frequently aren’t set up to excel in the race. Bowyer is still a solid 13th in the overall points.
The Cup Series runs next Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in a key stop because the track is also the site of the series’ championship race Nov. 8.