Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Our Take on Alex Bowman, Kevin Hamlin Exchange

Alex Bowman and spotter Kevin Hamlin had a heated exchange on the radio during the NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover Motor Speedway. What’s your take on the situation?

Luken Glover: It was nothing more than a heat-of-the-moment scenario. At that moment, Alex Bowman had been pressing Kyle Larson for the lead and had one of the fastest cars on track, and then they had a tight moment on pit road. However, Larson used the infamous aero-blocking on Bowman during the race to hang onto the lead, and I’m sure that created some frustration for Bowman. In Hamlin’s shoes, he’s trying to keep a driver collected and focused on what’s ahead, and sometimes that means getting direct with what you say. Bowman also seemed to have cooled off when pressed about it by Frontstretch after the race. Everything seems to be fine moving forward.

Austin Bass: Hamlin is a former driver. Every racer has a unique personality with a different approach to their craft and their code of ethics. Hamlin is no longer a driver, but his racer ethos bleeds into his current job as if he was still behind the wheel, which is distracting to Bowman both on and now off the track. A spotter’s role is much like that of a caddy in golf: provide information, context and support, and above all, be a calming presence. An ally, if you will. Can you imagine if a microphone picked up a caddy critiquing and criticizing their golfer during a tournament in such a manner? The type of discussion we heard should only be had behind closed doors. Airing dirty laundry is never good for team morale.

James Krause: While it came off as a little more heated than usual, what happened between Bowman and Hamlin was just that. Usual. Every week there’s a driver, crew chief or spotter mad at something or someone. The cars they’re racing around, NASCAR, the officials, Goodyear … and yes, even sometimes each other. I’m sure that Bowman and Hamlin have either addressed it this week, or more likely, didn’t even touch on it. It’s the heat of competition, and sometimes teammates burn each other.

Steve Leffew: Let’s be clear, Bowman is the clear No. 4 at Hendrick Motorsports right now. If that didn’t lead to hot tempers now and then, it would be a serious problem. The good news is Bowman had a pretty strong showing at Dover. He had winning speed but had his day marred by the incident on pit road, one bad restart, and running into something formidable: Larson in equal equipment.

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Carson Kvapil set a faster lap in the ARCA Menards Series race at Dover than Kyle Busch did in the Cup race. Is this proof NASCAR ought to increase horsepower in Cup cars?

Krause: No, at least not on its own. The aerodynamics of the Cup car are so different from the ARCA one that you have to race differently, not to mention different tire sizes that could have made drivers save more with Bristol Motor Speedway in mind. That said, I still can’t imagine anyone watching the racing at short tracks and not thinking a change is in order. Horsepower might be the easiest fix/thing to try, but I don’t know if that specifically would solve what we saw at Dover.

Bass: No. The Cup cars should run at higher speeds than they do currently; however, the reasoning has nothing to do with the relative speeds of any other series. What separates Cup from ARCA — and any other stock car racing series — is the level of competition from top to bottom. The Cup Series field is so tight that it’s becoming impossible to pass. This is largely in part because of the reduction in horsepower. If the cars could go faster, they would have to slow down more in the turns, creating more opportunities for speed differential and driver error. The additional braking needed to slow down and turn the car would increase tire degradation and create more opportunities for mistakes, all of which increase off-throttle time — the primary ingredient in the recipe for passing.

Leffew: As if we needed more proof. Yes, this is additional proof that the Cup Series needs more horsepower. When you’re slower than the ARCA cars, what are we doing here? Cup should be the fastest cars among the three major series, let alone ARCA. Not only for the obvious reasons of the top series having top speed but to create better racing.

Glover: If that isn’t a red flag on the horsepower discussion, then that’s a serious problem. It is no disrespect to ARCA, but a feeder series that isn’t even one of NASCAR’s top three levels should not go faster than the premier showcase. These drivers are supposed to be some of the best in the world, which several of them are, but slowing the cars down and making it easier to pass a kidney stone than another car does not support that notion. Horsepower increases are not going to break the bank, and several people within the industry have said it could be done in a phone call. The Next Gen car is not a disaster, and more horsepower would be a major step in improving the product.

Toyota has won four straight Cup races at Kansas Speedway. Will that trend continue?

Bass: Yes. Denny Hamlin sounded as confident as ever on his podcast this week about his team’s chances, and there is nothing to believe that he can’t call his shot for the second week in a row. Chris Gabehart and company are making all the right decisions, Hamlin is laser focused and the Toyotas are bringing the heat like Bryan Nolen these days. However, if bad luck strikes Hamlin — which it almost always does — then his 23XI Racing drivers will be right there to capitalize on his misfortune. This is arguably their best track.

Glover: Toyota has an argument to be the favorite entering the weekend. Not only does it have recent success at Kansas, but it currently carries momentum too. It’s won the past two races and has claimed five of the 11 races so far. However, its dominance at Kansas has weakened the past two races. Larson was a lap away from winning the spring race, then he led the most laps in the fall race. Like the theme has been thus far in 2024, we could be in for another Hendrick vs. Toyota battle this weekend.

Leffew: Yes. Ever since Kurt Busch, Billy Scott and Mike Wheeler hit on something at Kansas in the spring of 2022, the Toyotas have been supreme there. Since the final win of Busch’s Hall of Fame career, Toyota drivers have been on rails. HMS has mounted some significant challenges by Larson and William Byron, so we’ll see if they’ve closed the gap the rest of the way. Still, I expect the Toyotas to continue to lead the way until I see otherwise.

Krause: Yes it will. Hamlin is easily the betting favorite with five straight top-five Kansas finishes and four wins. Joe Gibbs Racing has eight wins all-time at Kansas, tied with HMS for most for a team. Beyond that, 23XI is always fast with three wins at Kansas, including one each for Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace. This weekend feels like another one that will see either a Toyota or a Hendrick Chevrolet in victory lane.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series begins a five-race in five-week stretch at Kansas. Who is best poised for a good stretch of races?

Leffew: Corey Heim has extra confidence after making his Cup debut at Dover. He’s a talented driver with a great team behind him at TRICON Garage and a great crew chief in Scott Zipadelli. Christian Eckes has been good and is clinging to a two-point lead over Heim, but this is where Heim pulls ahead and stretches out a bit of a lead.

Glover: Eckes and Heim, who are the top two in points, are the first drivers that come to mind. Eckes won at Darlington Raceway a year ago, and he seems to be fast nearly everywhere right now. The same goes for Heim. He has finished inside the top 10 in every race so far, and it’s hard to see him not being a factor in at least a couple of those races. I’m also keeping my eyes on Rajah Caruth and Grant Enfinger. Caruth has proven to be fast on intermediate tracks, winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this season, and Kansas and Charlotte Motor Speedway are in this five-race slate. Enfinger may not jump out like he did a year ago, but he won two of the races in this five-race stretch a year ago, asserting himself as someone to watch.

Krause: Enfinger enters this five-week stretch on the cutline for the playoffs in 10th. Last season, Enfinger managed two wins and four top-10 finishes over the same five-week stretch. This season sees Enfinger enter a far different scenario, coming off a pair of finishes outside the top 20 for CR7 Motorsports. While his current equipment isn’t quite to par with GMS Racing last year, Enfinger has elevated CR7 any time he’s driven it. Wins may be far fetched, but strong performances could get him off bubble watch.

Bass: Heim. He’s won once this season already, but many of the drafting and bumper-car short tracks that the Truck Series has visited have wildcard elements that prevent the cream from naturally rising. Now that the series heads to a calmer slate of tracks with fewer built-in hazards, it is time for Heim to bubble to the top. He will win at least two of these five races and stake his claim as the one to beat when the playoffs begin.

About the author

Austin Bass joined Frontstretch in 2024 as a contributor to combine his passion for racing and writing. Born in Wilson, NC, he developed a passion for racing at an early age while attending local short tracks on Saturday nights with his dad and watching the stars of the sport from their living room on Sunday afternoons.

Bass is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington with a degree in Communication Studies where he developed a deep understanding, appreciation, and love for the Oxford comma. He is an industrial degreaser salesman for Cox Industries whenever he is not writing or talking about racing.

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

James Krause joined Frontstretch in March 2024 as a contributor. Krause was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Northern Illinois University. He currently works in La Crosse, Wisconsin as a local sports reporter, including short track racing. Krause is a fan of football, auto racing, music, anime and video games.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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DoninAjax

ARCA cars are 700 HP and 3225 pounds so it probably comes down to power-to-weight ratio. Maybe MA$CAR should drop the wight, less energy to be absorbed in a crash.

Echo

Cup drivers are smarter than Nascar, so is my dog.. give racers the HP they are asking for, period. Brian, are you listening or passed out.

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