Grudge Match: Bowman set for Corvette race vs. Hendrick

Alex Bowman takes a break in his garage during NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Aric Almirola looks over his car in his garage after NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The most anticipated race for Hendrick Motorsports this season is still on the table: team owner Rick Hendrick vs. 2018 Daytona 500 pole winner Alex Bowman.

Bowman and Hendrick have let a scheduled drag race between them in their Corvettes linger for a year. Hendrick joked last year he was ready to go head-to-head with bragging rights and sports cars on the line against Bowman.

Bowman, who failed to win a race last season, said Hendrick was using weather as an excuse to duck him.

"Mr. Hendrick says we can't run until it gets warmer outside," Bowman said. "He needs it warmer. I guess his car doesn't like it when it's cold or something, I don't know. But, that's eventually got to happen."

Bowman wasn't about to trash talk the boss to get the deal done.

"If I call him 'scared' right now, it's going to end really badly for me," he said. "I do not think Mr. Hendrick is scared of drag racing my street car. But, I think he's just making sure he embarrasses me and doesn't just beat me by a little bit. He's got to beat me by a lot."

Bowman had a 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 he was wanted to race against a Corvette of Hendrick's choice, perhaps some time over the next few months.

"I know he has hired some people to purposely make his car faster than mine," Bowman said. "I've got a couple of tricks up my sleeve, too. We're both pretty invested in this race."

Bowman finished 17th last season in the Daytona 500.

Here are other items of note from the first day at Daytona.

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TEMPERED CONFIDENCE

Aric Almirola won the last restrictor-plate race of 2018, at Talladega Superspeedway in October, and closed the year with three consecutive top-10 finishes.

Both give him a little extra confidence — albeit tempered — heading into the season opener at Daytona.

"My kids keep me pretty humble," Almirola said. "My son, I told him I was excited about getting ready to go to Daytona before we flew down here Friday morning, and he said, 'Daddy, I sure hope you win more than just one race next year.' So, my kids do a good job of keeping me in check. ... I try to do a good job of staying level-headed and, in the good times, just enjoy it, and in the bad times, just keep fighting."

Almirola nearly won the last Daytona 500. He was leading on the final lap before making contact with Austin Dillon and crashing into the outside wall.

"There's a lot of luck involved," Almirola said. "You can do everything right. You can have a fast car. You can put yourself in what you think is the right position and get caught up in a wreck, so you've got to have things go your way and it's tough to win the Daytona 500. There are a lot of great race car drivers that have never won that race, so that's definitely something that we're looking forward to having the opportunity to do come next Sunday."

Almirola, who replaced Dania Patrick in the No. 10 Ford and finished fifth in points for Stewart-Haas Racing, acknowledged that it took a while to get over that oh-so-close finish at NASCAR's most famous track.

"Did I ever have a moment where behind closed doors I stomped my feet and hit some things? Maybe," he said. "In that time, in that moment, it was more important for me to go out and be a good representation for my sponsors and my partners and my kids. My kids were sitting back in my motorhome watching on TV like the rest of the world, so at that time it was an opportunity for me to be a good role model for my kids."

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ALMOST 43 CARS

Obaika Racing's Daytona 500 car was on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It just won't hit the track at Daytona International Speedway.

The first ever African-owned team held a splashy press conference at the Hall to announce it would compete this season in the Cup series with Tanner Berryhill in the No. 97 Toyota.

Not so fast.

The team quickly reversed course and was conspicuously absent from the official Daytona 500 entry list and was a no-show when the garage opened for Speedweeks. Obaika Racing, owned by Nigerian entrepreneur, Victor Obaika, cited "limited resources" as the reason it could not compete. It was not immediately clear what happened to its finances in the two days between the press conference and its withdrawal.

"We will compete in as many events as possible, and we will announce our 2019 debut race as soon as possible," Obaika said.

Berryhill tweeted he was devastated he discovered "the opportunity of a lifetime wasn't."

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SILVER ANNIVERSARY

JTG Daugherty Racing is set to celebrate its 25th season.

Jeff Fuller made JTG's first start in NASCAR's second-tier series on Feb. 18, 1995 at Daytona.

"I remember we were parked out in the dirt by Lake Lloyd because there was no room for us in the garage," said owner Tad Geschickter. "There were like 60 cars here. It was really an interesting week with a lot of pressure. But it's hard to believe we've done 25 of them now."

AJ Allmendinger has the lone Cup win for JTG in 2014 and made NASCAR's playoffs but this year was replaced by Ryan Preece.

Geschickter said NASCAR has a "tough business model right now" that makes it hard for teams to stick around for the long haul and be successful.

"I will say this, 25 years in a tough model, I think it makes you stronger and a better businessperson; so I wouldn't trade it, Geschickter said. "But, just a little bit easier would be a good thing."

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AP Sports Writer Mark Long contributed to this report.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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