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Bowman picks up Dover win

By DAN GELSTON

The Associated Press

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.

Cindric wins Dover Xfinity Series race

DOVER, Del. — Austin Cindric saved his car from a serious spin early in the race and dominated late Saturday at Dover International Speedway and won his third Xfinity Series race of the season.

The 22-year-old Cindric showed flashes throughout his career on the one-mile concrete track that he could take the checkered flag. Cindric was second and third in two Xfinity races last season and had never finished worse than ninth in six previous Dover starts.

“God, I love this track,” he said on his radio after crossing the finish line.

He connected with Ty Gibbs near the end of the first stage and the No. 22 Ford swiveled a bit until Cindric straightened it and kept it on pace for the win. Cindric led the final 51 laps.

Cindric stood in the window and pumped his fists toward thousands of fans who turned out at Dover a year after they were banned from attending because of the coronavirus pandemic. Dover said Sunday’s Cup race was sold out, with capacity capped at 20,000 ticketed fans.

The reigning Xfinity champion, Cindric opened this season with a win at Daytona and again won four races later at Phoenix. He finished 30th last week at Darlington but still came into Saturday with a 39-point lead over Daniel Hemric in the points standings.

He won his 11th career Xfinity race; he had six last season.

Josh Berry, who makes his Cup debut Sunday, was second and Justin Allgaier was third. Berry, a former bank teller, won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus awarded to Xfinity drivers.

“It could have been one spot better,” Berry said. “We just weren’t quite as good on that last run as we were the run before.”

AJ Allmendinger and Gibbs completed the top five.

VeeKay wins

at Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — Rinus VeeKay continued IndyCar’s youth movement Saturday by scoring his first career victory with a win on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Dutchman became the third first-time winner through five races this season — the most at this point in the season since 2013.

The 20-year-old is the fourth winner 24 or younger to reach victory lane this season, joining Alex Palou, Colton Herta, and Pato O’Ward in what is quickly becoming a changing of the guard in IndyCar.

Only six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon has been to victory lane so far this year for the veterans as the series heads next week into preparations for the Indianapolis 500.

VeeKay beat Romain Grosjean to the finish line by nearly 5 seconds.

“I knew we had the car, we were so fast,” VeeKay said after leading 33 laps.

VeeKay won for Ed Carpenter Racing, the first victory for the team since Josef Newgarden won for them in 2016. Newgarden has since moved to Team Penske and won two IndyCar championships.

Grosjean led a race-high 44 laps and finished second for his first podium finish since 2015 in Formula One. The Frenchman survived a fiery crash in Bahrain last November that left him with severe scarring on his hands and marked the end of his F1 career.

He won the pole for the race in just his third IndyCar start — his first pole in 10 years — and the crowd at Indy cheered at the fence for him following his finish.

Palou was third, followed by Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, Scott McLaughlin, Dixon, and Marcus Ericsson.

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