It's been quite a bit different the last few weeks for NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman.
After North Carolina went on a stay-at-home order on Thursday due to coronavirus concerns, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said he's passed the time doing some home maintenance, working on his own cars a bit, and watching all of the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King”.
“Big thumbs up on that,” Bowman said by phone on Friday. “If you have Netflix check out Tiger King because that is a hell of a ride.”
Other than that, Bowman said he's spent a lot of time with his two dogs, Finn and Roscoe, and practiced a bit on iRacing.
Bowman needed the practice to get ready for this Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 125 as part of the iRacing Pro Invitational Series from virtual Texas Motor Speedway. This week's is the second in a series of virtual races that will go on while NASCAR has postponed real races due to coronavirus concerns.
Bowman finished sixth in last week's virtual race from Homestead-Miami Speedway, even after joking on social media that Finn took over for a couple of laps and wrecked a good portion of the field. The actual driver of the No. 88 said he'll keep up his jovial spirit for this week's race, trying to keep the replacement races as fun as possible.
Bowman spoke to the Bulletin on Friday about his iRacing experience, what new iRacing fans should watch for this week, and his dog getting in on the race action.
Bulletin – Last week you said Finn drove a bit for you. So, as your replacement driver has he been practicing any this week?
Alex Bowman – (laughing) For sure. We've both been putting a lot of time in on the sim. Hopefully he doesn't crash the whole field again. He's been pretty ashamed of himself all week. Kind of moping around. He's ready for redemption though.
Some of the drivers have been saying you all are taking this race a bit more seriously and everyone has been practicing a ton. Do you feel like it will be taken more seriously now that you all know how popular is it and your competitiveness is out or do you think it'll still be kind of light-hearted and fun, or kind of a mix of the two?
AB - Obviously last week, considering I was tweeting and driving at the same time and then my dog took over, obviously I didn't take it very seriously. This week, I feel like things have ramped up, for sure. The teams are now taking it really seriously and we're having conference calls and meetings and all kinds of stuff to try to prepare more. I'm still on the laughing about it side more than the taking it seriously, but I'm not afraid to put some laps in in practice. I've been practicing this morning just trying to be as prepared as I can. It's obviously a new thing for a lot of us. Guys like William Byron do this a lot. He's obviously super prepared. Just trying to be caught up and bridge the gap a little bit to get to his level is kind of what I'm going for. Just doing whatever I can to be prepared.
In iRacing they talk about things like track temperature and tire wear and that sort of thing like you'd hear for a real race but maybe wouldn't expect in a virtual world. If someone is watching this Sunday's race and has never watched iRacing before, how would you describe it to them in the way it compares to a real race?
AB - I think Texas so far seems to be really similar to the real Texas, to a point. The line is going to be pretty much exactly what we run there in real life. I would say the biggest difference is the cars don't have the dirty air penalty as bad. So where on a lot of these intermediate tracks in real life it's really hard to follow another car really closely, you get really tight behind another guy and it's hard to pass. iRacing gets to kind of manipulate that however it wants to. I think the racing benefits from that because we're able to run really close to the cars in front of us. The draft is really, really useful and it makes it really easy to pass guys and at least get side-by-side. I think the racing is going to be a lot more side-by-side action than you would see at a normal Texas race. The tire wear is pretty similar, it just builds really tight as you run. It's kind of interesting, we all have to run the same set up, so we all basically have the same car, it's up to us to adapt to it and figure out how to drive it.
What is something new viewers should know or watch for to make the most of the experience watching it?
AB - I don't really know, I feel like you can watch it like a normal race. That's kind of how it is. There's really not a lot about iRacing that's different. The pit road stuff is a little different. You get one reset, so if you crash you can reset your car once, which I feel like all of us will use at some point. It's really about the same as a real race.
When you all did the first replacements race online two weeks ago you were saying on social media you weren't very good and you were really self-deprecating. Now you're saying you've really fallen in love with it. What changed for you? What do you like about iRacing?
AB - I think my sarcasm level went up a little bit. (laughing) I don't know. I'm just trying to have fun with it. I was frustrated that I didn't run well the first one. I was taking it seriously and I was frustrated about the little differences from real life and that you can't run it like you can in real life. Sometimes if you have to do things that you wouldn't necessarily normally do, it's better just to find a way to have fun with it than to sit there and be mad about having to do it. So just doing what I can to have fun with it. If it gets to a point where we all have to take it really seriously I'll probably get back to where I was that first week, but as long as I can have fun with it I'm good.
Is it one of those things, like William Byron went from iRacing to a real car somewhat seamlessly. But it seems if you go from a car to the iRacing rig there's more trouble there? Is that right?
AB - It's tough to adapt to iRacing in a short amount of time. You have to put a lot of laps in to figure it out. There are a lot of little tricks and weird things that go on to manipulate the situation, so just trying to figure all of that out, it takes time. A lot of guys last week thought they could just show up and spend one night on it and be good at it, and you really have to put a lot of time in. Having a guy like William to be able to lean on and talk to and kind of pick his brain about how he goes fast has been a big help. He helped me a lot last week, but there are just so many little things that are just so different than real life about how you actually drive the race car and approach the race side of things. There's little tips and tricks that you can do to be better that just take time to figure out.
How much have you been on it this week?
AB - I've probably spent four or five hours on it this week. Probably a little less so far than I did last week, but I'm sure I'll be on it quite a bit today. There's not a lot going on. Just trying to do what I can to be prepared. Texas seems like it's a lot more straight-forward than Homestead was. Homestead was really difficult to create lap time and to figure out the best way to approach the race, where Texas is quite honestly quite a bit easier to drive so far, so we're just gonna have to wait and see. I'm sure they'll do some mock races later today and I'll be able to really figure out where I stack up, but I've felt good about it every time I've hopped on it this week, so it'll be interesting to see.
Since you've been at home so much more than you normally would this time of year, the dogs must be loving having you around so much.
AB - Yea, I think Finn loves it. Roscoe is like, 'All right you can leave me alone now.' But Finn is a big fan. I've been around a lot these last two weeks so they're here for it.
One more question that I'm sure you've been asked a million times. Did you ever get your tattoo? (Bowman said he and his team were going to get matching tattoos after winning at Fontana earlier this season).
AB - I haven't yet. I've been pretty indecisive of what I want to get and where I want it and all that. I've been pretty indecisive on all that. But it's coming, for sure.
Well you said you'd get a tattoo for that win. Would you consider getting one if you won one of these iRaces?
AB - Heck no. (laughing) Man, I am not doing that. If it said iRacing on my body I would be pretty disappointed in myself.
The iRacing Pro Invitational Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 125 from virtual Texas Motor Speedway will race on Sunday at 1 p.m. on FS1.