The checkered flag waved over No. 88 at Chicagoland Speedway as Alex Bowman captured his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Series Cup (MENSC) win on June 30 in the Campground 400 after a rain delay of 3 hours and 18 minutes.
NASCAR deployed a wide array of drying equipment to bring the 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval up to standard, but the storm had an obvious effect in a race that saw heavy tire wear early, and heavy contact late that led to an exciting 267 laps in Joliet, Illinois.
Kevin Harvick dominated the race early as he took the lead on lap 20 and held for 52 laps before a flat tire forced him into pit row with eight laps to go in stage one. Three more cars quickly followed as Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer all lost tread with Bowyer’s flat leading to the second caution of the race after spinning into the grass.
Denny Hamlin emerged from the chaos with the stage victory, followed by Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell. Harvick still managed to finish in seventh place to capture 4 stage points and his No. 4 continued to be the car to beat heading into stage two.
Harvick led from the restart but became locked in a tight duel for the lead with William Byron before a third caution flag reset the field on lap 99. Byron briefly challenged after the yellow but Harvick grabbed the front spot on lap 109 for another 51 laps and the stage two win.
After starting from the thirteenth position and patiently working his way through traffic, a surging Chase Elliott found some open track to move around teammate Jimmie Johnson and narrowed the gap to less than a second to finish second in the stage and put himself in a strong position for the final leg of the race.
What at first looked like a very dangerous event turned merely into a time-consuming one, as the air hose of a pneumatic drill got wrapped around the right rear wheel tire of the No. 9 Chevy forcing the team scramble for a solution as Elliott rapidly lost ground and emerged from pit row having fallen 18 spots to twentieth for the restart.
Stage three started with Kyle Larson cutting past Harvick to take the lead, and Bowman rounding out the top three. Bowman’s opportunity came on lap 171 when the No. 4 slid high into turn one making solid contact with the outside wall and dragging the car along the barrier into to turn two resulting in a yellow flag.
Bowman led 88 of the final 96 laps and fought off challenges from Ryan Blaney, Rickey Stenhouse Jr., a briefly resurgent Harvick and, then finally Larson as the lead changed hands six times over the span, to include two lead changes in the final eight laps as Bowman held off Larson by .546 seconds for the win.
It was the second year in a row the Larson took second after a last lap battle as Busch ran him down in the stretch of the 2018 version. Joey Logano, Johnson and Keselowski completed the top-5. Elliott finished just outside of the top-10 in eleventh place.
NASCAR will celebrate the Fourth of July with a return to the Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on July 6.