Bowman, 23, was subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was sidelined for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms earlier in the week.
And though Bowman had 71 Cup starts to his credit before Sunday’s race, none of them came in equipment remotely comparable to the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet he drove in Earnhardt’s stead.
After starting 20th and getting the feel of the car, Bowman began advancing. He was 10th for a restart on Lap 228 and got by teammate and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson for the ninth spot.
But calamity struck on a Lap 265 pit stop when contact between Bowman’s Chevy and the Toyota of Carl Edwards cut the left-rear tire on Bowman’s car. The coup de grace came on Lap 273, when Bowman slid up the track into Kurt Busch’s Chevrolet.
With the left-rear flattened, Bowman crashed into the outside wall on the frontstretch.
Bowman stayed on the lead lap and finished 26th, but the way the race ended didn’t mute the driver’s enthusiasm.
“It was amazing,” Bowman gushed. “I can’t thank Hendrick Motorsports and all these guys enough. They took me to my worst race track by far and made me look good. I just have to thank Mr. H (team owner Rick Hendrick). I had such an amazing time. Everybody, (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and all the guys were so welcoming. I hate the circumstances and really hope Dale is feeling well, but I had so much fun today.
“Obviously, I hate that we didn’t get the finish we deserve, but I’ve raced with a lot of these guys for a long time… I raced around them, but I’ve never got to actually race with guys like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, all those guys. I had a lot of fun passing really good cars. Just really thankful for Nationwide and all of Hendrick Motorsports for letting me be here.”