LONG POND, Pa. — Alex Bowman helplessly watched teammate Kyle Larson zip past him in the waning laps Saturday evening at Pocono Raceway and apologized to his crew over the radio for blowing the lead.
Larson's blown tire cost him so much more. With a fifth consecutive Cup Series win in sight the left front tire on his No. 5 Chevrolet went down less than a mile from the finish line. NASCAR's hottest driver slammed into the wall in stunning fashion and wound up fading to ninth.
Oh, so a flat tire is how you beat Larson.
Bowman had a second chance in a flash, and this he didn't waste the lead. It was another example of how the past two months have rolled for Hendrick Motorsports: When one driver falters, another finds his way to victory lane.
Bowman made it six straight wins for Hendrick, but the shredded tire denied Larson's bid for a fourth straight Cup Series points victory; he was going for five consecutive wins on the circuit counting the NASCAR All-Star race, which doesn't count in the standings but brought him a $1 million prize.
Bowman was in disbelief as he crossed the line for for his third victory of the season.
"This is the strangest win I've ever been a part of," he said.
Larson, who had passed Bowman with three laps left in the race, laughed at his misfortune. He was maybe a mile away from becoming the first driver since Jimmie Johnson — the seven-time season champion who drove for Hendrick before retiring after last season — in 2007 to win four consecutive points races on NASCAR's top circuit. Instead, the tire went down on the last corner of the last lap and knocked Larson out of contention.
Bowman went from tough luck loser to unlikely winner on the 2.5-mile tri-oval known as the Tricky Triangle.
Larson said he might have run over debris before the tire went flat. Bowman was in the right spot to take advantage — from apology to victory — and won for the third time in his past 10 races, with his other victories at Dover International Speedway (May 16) and Richmond Raceway (April 18).
"We got pretty lucky there with Kyle's misfortune," said Bowman, who recently signed a two-year contract extension at Hendrick and wasted little time rewarding the organization's faith in him.
For team owner Rick Hendrick, the wins keep coming.
Bowman started the streak in May at Dover, and reigning series champion Chase Elliott followed the next week at the Circuit of Americas. Larson then ripped off three straight points victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and last Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway — and squeezed in the All-Star win at Texas Motor Speedway between Sonoma and Nashville — all while Hendrick Motorsports became all-time leader in team wins in series history.
All eyes were on Larson as he tried to match Johnson for the longest winning streak this century, but after the setback he faded to ninth.
"Disbelief, still," Larson said. "Hate that we didn't get another win. It would have been cool to win five in a row. I felt something in the middle of the tunnel. I wasn't sure what it was yet. It finally kind of shredded halfway through that little short chute there."
The 28-year-old Bowman is in his sixth full season on the Cup Series and his fourth with Hendrick. Until this year, he had never had more than one win in a season, but he has seemingly put all the tools together — with a little luck — to finally break out.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch was second, followed by Hendrick's William Byron, JGR's Denny Hamlin and Team Penske's Ryan Blaney.
Hendrick has nine wins overall this season and tied its team record for consecutive victories set in 2007.
Bowman won the first of two Cup Series races this weekend, and the doubleheader setup meant he didn't really get to enjoy the spoils of victory, such as a burnout in his No. 48 Chevy.
"I typically drink all the beers," he said. "Can't do that because I have to race the car tomorrow."
Crew chief Greg Ives laughed as he complained he was wet because champagne was poured down his shirt.
"You're welcome," Bowman said.
John Hunter Nemechek won the Truck Series race earlier Saturday, beating team boss Busch, to the finish line to kick off a packed Pocono schedule. The Xfinity Series races Sunday followed by the second Cup Series race — a 350-mile event after Saturday's 325-miler.
NASCAR will invert the order of the top-20 finishers for the start of Sunday's race. Chris Buescher, who won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2016, will start in pole position. The bottom 18 finishers will start in the same spot.
Larson will start Sunday in a backup car, meaning he must drop to the rear of the field. He's scheduled to visit with students from the Urban Youth Racing School, the Philadelphia-based program that creates opportunities in racing for minorities and extended an olive branch to Larson after he was suspended for using a racial slur while racing online in April 2020.
Said Larson: "We'll try and start another streak tomorrow."