This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.
Alex Bowman was confident in his car all weekend at Auto Club Speedway and put the pedal to the metal once the green flag waved on Sunday's Auto Club 400. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took his first career stage win in the opening segment when he raced from his second-row starting position to battle for the lead early. Ryan Blaney took his Ford power to the front in the second stage, but Bowman recovered and pulled away again in the final stage. He had a commanding lead in the final laps and was able to comfortably cruise to the checkered flag once Blaney had to pit for a tire issue late in the race. Bowman now will begin his focus on optimizing his efforts for the playoffs. The Hendrick cars were impressive in the final 10 races last season, and winning so early this season gives Bowman extra time to prepare.
The series ends its West Coast trip this week at Phoenix Raceway. This is the first season this track will be the championship decider, as Homestead-Miami Speedway moved its race to an earlier spot on the schedule. Teams will want to make sure they learn as much as they can for the return to the track in the fall, but still want to walk away with an early win so they can be assured of their spot in the battle to get there again in championship contention. Joe Gibbs Racing has been the class of the field there the