By Dustin Albino

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —  Alex Bowman got off to the best start of his Cup Series career in 2023. The last four months, however, have been a battle.

Through the first month of the season, Bowman was the only driver in the field to have top 10s in each race. For the first time, he led the championship standings, and did so after three races. The No. 48 team, led by Blake Harris who made the jump over from Front Row Motorsports last offseason, had top fives in half of the opening six race in 2023.

The downfall began following an inspection failure at Richmond, when both Bowman and William Byron were penalized 60 regular season points and five playoff points for modifications to the greenhouse area of the car. He dropped to seventh in the championship standings.

Later on in April, Bowman was injured while racing a sprint car in Iowa. He ended up missing three regular season races and the All-Star Race. Josh Berry filled in during his recovery.

When Bowman returned to the No. 48 seat at the Coca-Cola 600, he was 17th in the championship standings, just a handful of points below the elimination line.

“It‘s a bummer that we‘re in this situation that a points penalty hurt us and then I finished the job by breaking my back,” Bowman said on Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “It was my decision to go sprint car racing and it was my decision to get us here. Frustrating with myself on that side of things. Just got to get back to how we should be.”

Bowman has tallied just one top-10 finish in the 12 races since returning from injury. He finished fifth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course two weeks ago.

Missed opportunities presented themselves at races such as the Chicago Street Course, Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway. Last weekend at Watkins Glen International, the No. 48 team lacked speed relative to the frontrunners.

“We‘ve run really well and not got the finishes that we deserved at a lot of places,” Bowman said. “It‘s been week-to-week. My race team is plenty capable of firing off 10 good weeks. Even if we‘re not in [the playoffs], we might as well act like we are and do our best to make it happen.”

Entering the regular season finale at Daytona, Bowman needs to win in order to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season. He’s dropped to 20th in the championship standings, 96 points below the bubble.

The Arizona native is approaching Daytona with a fresh mindset. Chevrolet had a meeting on Monday to go over the gameplan for the weekend, though Bowman noted the meeting was similar to normal weeks leading into superspeedways. The only difference is Bowman, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon — all key Chevrolet drivers — must win.

“Just trying to put ourselves in a good position, study and understand where the guys that win these races typically come from,” Bowman said. “See if we can pull it off [Saturday] night.”

In 14 starts at Daytona, Bowman has a quartet of top finishes, including his personal best of fifth in this year’s Daytona 500. He’s on a 50-race winless drought.

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