DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Despite watching his driver, Alex Bowman, and the No. 88 Chevrolet sink like a stone on Lap 1, Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Greg Ives said Thursday’s Can-Am Duel played out according to plan.
Bowman and the Daytona 500 pole-winning car emerged from Thursday’s first qualifying race without a scratch. After fading to the back of the pack shortly after the initial drop of the green flag, Bowman sidestepped the carnage that snared the primary cars of Hendrick teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson.
The clean finish, 14th in the 20-car field for the opening 150-mile race, meant that Bowman’s No. 1 starting spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) remained intact.
“We came down here to sit on the pole and we wanted to be the Camaro ZL1’s first pole and we achieved that,” Bowman said, referring to his fast qualifying lap last Sunday in the new Chevy model.”But, we weren’t going to tear it up tonight for sure.”
Ives agreed, saying the four crashes in the brief, 60-lap sprint added merit to the game plan.
“I don’t know. I saw those guys wreck and that’s something we weren’t going to have to do,” he said. “I’m already locked in to the pole position so there’s no sense being out there and having people get around you and get in a situation to get wrecked.
While the No. 88 remained without a crease, the only potential downside was a lack of learning experience in the aerodynamic draft for NASCAR’s new superspeedway package. The lack of a ride-height requirement in the rule book at Daytona International Speedway and sister track Talladega has prompted teams to lower the rear decks of the cars this week, gaining speed at the expense of dodgy handling.
Neither Bowman or Ives expressed much concern, saying that the No. 88 team will alter its set-up for Sunday’s Great American Race, adjusting for the sunnier, warmer conditions of a Sunday mid-afternoon start.
“You always want to get experience in the draft, but you’ve got a risk-reward a little bit,” Ives said. “I didn’t think it was a benefit. We came down here with a plan and we’re going to stick to that plan. Right now it’s working out to what we want, but the 500, it’s going to be a way different race than it is tonight.
And come Sunday, that approach won’t involve a precipitous drop to the rear of the field at the start.
“Strategy for us is to go out there and try to lead as many laps as we can and be in position to win,” Ives said. “I think that’s what most people do to win these races. Sitting back there, you’re not putting yourself in position to know what you can trust your car to do at the end of the race. That’s what we’re going to try to do. We’re going to go out there and be aggressive. We’re starting up front and that’s where we want to end it.”