Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography

Alex Bowman is ready to sip some bourbon for his haters

As Alex Bowman leaned back in his chair discussing his win on the streets of Chicago, he took a moment to send a message.

This wasn't a message to his sponsors or his fans. No, he had already highlighted them during other interviews. This message was for a different group of people.

"Everybody that said I couldn't win and don't deserve to be at Hendrick Motorsports and all that bulls***, cheers to you," Bowman said Sunday night.

This message, while delivered at the end of a discussion about bourbon, showed the effect the past two years have had on a driver who tied for the second-most wins in 2021.

Bowman went from being a perennial playoff contender and someone who was regularly in the mix for wins to missing time due to multiple injuries. He only led 89 laps in 2023 and only six this season before Sunday's race.

The No. 48 team's average starting position fell from 14.0 in 2022 to 17.2 in 2023 as it struggled to reach the second round of qualifying. Bowman was on the playoff cutline entering Sunday's street race.

The Arizona native also faced natural comparisons to his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.

"I'm just a dude trying to do my job the best I possibly can," Bowman said. "And I see everything that gets said about me."

Kyle Larson has won nine races since Bowman last celebrated in victory lane. William Byron has won 11 races in that same time.

Chase Elliott, who missed seven races last season, has won six races and a regular-season championship. Bowman's three teammates have all reached the Championship 4 since his last win.

"(The Chicago win is) more about, for me, just overcoming everything that's happened in my life in the last two years," Bowman said. "It's been really difficult, right?

"Like, concussion and then to straight away go break my back after recovering from that and then just tremendously struggle through last year and kind of lose our way a little bit. It was really difficult."

While Bowman was not regularly contending for wins, he was also not necessarily in a make-or-break situation. He said he's signed through the 2026 season. He also has a year-long sponsor in Ally whereas other drivers and teams have to rely on multiple sponsors to fill out the schedule.

However, there was extra pressure on Bowman considering the team name on his firesuit and the number on the doors of his race car. Both represent championships and wins. Expectations are simply bigger on the Hendrick Motorsports campus.

"It's important that you gel and the chemistry comes in, the effort's there, but you've got to win at some point," HMS Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon said after the race.

"You've got to win not just because you're at Hendrick Motorsports, it's because it's really hard to get the team where they need to be -- to compete at the highest level on a regular basis, make the playoffs, and compete at a high level in the playoffs -- without victories coming."

Bowman has the win, his first since March 2022, and a spot in the playoffs. He is healthy and he continues to build chemistry with crew chief Blake Harris.

The focus turns to the playoffs and the work continues as the No. 48 team tries to stockpile wins and playoff points before the Round of 16 opener at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sept. 8.

First, however, there will be a big celebration that is long overdue.

"I've got a couple bottles (of bourbon) that were bought early in '22 that we were like, 'The next win, we're going to drink these,'" Bowman said. "And they've been sitting on the counter way too f****** long."