Alex Bowman: Hendrick has to raise its game

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 01: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Axalta Chevrolet, during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

You’ve heard the term “gym rat?”

That’s a player who wears out the hardwood with extra basketball practice.

Well, Alex Bowman used to be a “sim” rat.

Before he landed his current full-time ride in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Bowman’s day job was driving the organization’s simulator, helping to fine-tune the HMS Chevys of Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With Earnhardt and Kahne now retired, and succeeded by Bowman and William Byron, respectively, you might think simulator work would be even more important to the HMS drivers.

You’d be wrong.

In a surprising revelation at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, Bowman said he hasn’t been in the simulator at all this year – even with a new competition package making its debut in the 2019 season. The reason? Hendrick struggled through a trying 2018 season and doesn’t have its cars at a consistently high enough level of performance to make simulator work reliable and useful.

“I don’t think I’ve been in a simulator in… I think I got ready for Watkins Glen there last year, and that was it,” said Bowman, who will start 11th in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “I haven’t been in there. It’s kind of hit-and-miss.

“We tried to use it a lot at the beginning of last year and kind of felt like some places it’s kind of got us off of where we needed to be, and other places it really helped. We weren’t at a spot with our race cars where we could consistently use it effectively.

“I think once we get our race cars to where we need to be and we can focus on that, it’s something we can use a lot, but we’ve got all the focus on trying to get the race cars where they need to be right now.”

Greg Engle