NASCAR Darlington Auto Racing

Alex Bowman (88) is helping to lead the charge for Hendrick Motorsports after finishing second in Sunday's The Real Heroes 400.

DARLINGTON — It had already been a banner week for Alex Bowman even before he stepped back into the race car for Wednesday night’s Toyota 500.

On Saturday, the 27-year-old signed a 1-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports that will last through 2021.

He responded with a second-place finish in The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway and sat in second place in the NASCAR Cup Series standings prior to Wednesday’s race. Bowman was just 28 points behind leader Kevin Harvick, who took the checkered flag Sunday.

“Yeah, for sure,” Bowman said when asked if there was any added confidence stemming from his contract extension. “Obviously not having to talk about 2021 anymore, just focus on the task at hand, going and contending for a championship is really good. Got to thank Mr. Hendrick and everybody at HMS. Obviously my career has changed significantly since coming over to HMS. They gave me a big break. I’m very appreciative for that. Really enjoying it. Glad to have that squared away.

“Ready to go try to win some more races.”

HMS is likely counting on Bowman’s early-season success to continue. He finished first in Fontana, California, at the Pennzoil 400 and hasn’t placed outside the top 24 in any race this season, four top-20 finishes. He seemingly didn’t miss a beat after a near two-month layoff, leading 41 laps at Darlington.

He had a chance to even take over the race lead from Harvick late, but couldn’t quite manage the pass on what turned out to be the final restart.

“We were really strong on short runs right off the bat,” Bowman said. “Just got tight as the runs went on. Freed it up quite a bit during the first two-thirds of the race. Got the car pretty good, then I kind of leaned on the wall a little bit and hurt us there at the end.

“… I have to do a better job there. But really happy with everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, and NOCO, to come off a mini off-season, have four cars that were strong, have a good day like that, it means a lot.”

Bowman and Chase Elliott wound up in the top four, and Jimmie Johnson and William Byron each led laps to highlight a strong day for Hendrick Motosports — something Bowman expects to continue.

“I feel like all the intermediate (tracks) this season have been a big statement for us,” he said. “The (No.) 9 was probably the best car in Vegas. We had a great car in Fontana. Then to come here and have four really fast cars, it’s awesome.

“… I think that shows a lot about the strength of HMS right now. We’re just going to keep gaining on it.”

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