BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 19: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Axalta Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 19, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Bowman peaking at right time, has chance to pull upset in Round of 8 opener

After Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, NASCAR Cup Series Playoff driver Alex Bowman said people slept on him advancing deep into the postseason.

Well, now he’s in the Round of 8, so the joke’s on them.

Bowman heads into Sunday’s third-round-kickoff race, the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM), seventh in the points standings, 18 points behind Championship 4 cutline driver and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.

There’s only one way not to worry about that points deficit — win. The No. 88 driver says the team is capable of doing that right off the bat.

RELATED: Bowman: ‘A lot of people slept on us’

“We’ve been a little off with our mile-and-a-half program compared to how we started the year, but we’re kind of getting back that direction,” Bowman told NASCAR.com. “I’m excited to see how the car is at the start of the race, and I think we could be really good. Kansas is probably my favorite place we go to, just with all the lane options. When that place is cool and has a lot of grip, it’s a lot of fun to race. I think we can have a really solid weekend and hopefully contend for the win.”

Bowman started off the season with solid speed, winning at Auto Club Speedway to make the playoffs, but the summer stretch was rough. Nearing the playoffs, he rebounded. Since scoring a fifth-place finish in August at Dover International Speedway, Bowman has only two finishes outside the top 10.

“We got headed in the right direction at the right time, which was a big positive for us,” Bowman said. “I think we can continue that through the rest of the playoffs.”

An eighth-place finish in July at Kansas bodes well for Bowman’s chances to find the front on Sunday. He also scored a runner-up result in the spring race there last year.

Mathematically speaking, Bowman isn’t in a must-win situation out of the gate, but the task will be tall to make it into the Championship 4 without visiting Victory Lane.

“It’s going to be really hard to point our way into the (Championship) 4,” Bowman said. “But, if we can win, it’d be pretty cool to go race for a championship. I don’t think we have to, but I mean we need three really, really well-executed races with lots of stage points and top fives minimum in all three of them to make the (Championship) 4. That’s really the box we put ourselves in with the lack of playoff points. Just need to go be as perfect as we can be.”

While both Kansas and next Sunday’s stop at Texas Motor Speedway offer opportunities for victory, it’s the Round of 8 cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway that has Bowman on his toes, admitting it’s probably his weakest track on the circuit.

Bowman earned a sixth-place result in the first stop at the Virginia short track this year.

RELATED: Complete Round of 8 preview

“We’ve made gains on our short-track program,” Bowman said. “I feel like we still have a little bit to go, but we’re definitely gaining on it.”

Working with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, in particular the No. 9 team of Elliott, has led to an uptick in his short-track performance. While Elliott is one of Bowman’s direct playoff competitors, teamwork still makes the dream work.

“We have a good relationship, good relationship with (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson), as well,” Bowman said. “We lean on that team a lot. That team has been the best performing team at HMS the past couple years. They’re definitely doing a really good job. Chase does a really good job. We lean on them a lot, especially for places like Martinsville where they’re really good, or the road courses where they’re really good.

“On the race track, we race each other really well and clean, but hard as well. Away from the track, we’re sharing information as much as we can.”