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There was once a time where Alex Bowman thought winning a NASCAR Cup Series race would solve everything for him.

After toiling in backmarker Cup cars for several years just to earn even the consideration of a team like Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman earned his long-sought goal the hard way when he got his first career win at Chicagoland in 2019. Then, he kept winning with six over the next three years, including four in 2021, to give him seven total. By the time his team cleaned off the confetti and loaded up his winning car after the third race of 2022 at Las Vegas, it had seemed that sustained, winning success had come Bowman's way.

Then, that winning success went. And a somewhat older and definitely wiser Bowman has only begun to try and get it to come again.

"I kind of learned after I won my first race -- I think I thought winning a Cup race was gonna solve all my problems in life. And you realize that while you've worked your whole life to get to that point, it really doesn't solve anything for you," Bowman told CBS Sports. "So you really have to fall in love with the process and the work that goes along with it."

Through the first seven races of the 2024 season, there have been glimpses of Bowman getting back to his winning ways as he tries to end a 68-race drought dating back to his most recent victory two years ago. He was runner-up in the Daytona 500, then earned back-to-back top fives at Bristol and Circuit of the Americas for the first time in nearly four years. Those results, however, are counteracted by three races where Bowman admits he and his team didn't run well, plus a Richmond race that was spoiled when he was trapped by a caution that came out during a cycle of green flag stops.

There are hints of a narrative that Bowman is "back" through his improved performance, just as there's been a narrative as to why he labored through a down year in 2023: After a hot start to the season that saw him lead the points standings, Bowman missed three races after fracturing his vertebra in a sprint car crash, then never performed at a consistently competitive level the rest of the season, leading a few to suggest that he had come back from his injury too early and wasn't the same physically.

It's easy to suggest that was the case, and it's also easy to suggest that the injury interrupted the development of chemistry with his then-new crew chief Blake Harris. What it isn't, though, is entirely accurate. While Bowman conceded to CBS Sports that certain actions like climbing in and out of his car were painful, he was quick to mention how his team ran well in the Coca-Cola 600 -- his first race back last May -- before falling off in terms of performance.

"I would love to sit here and say that my back hurt and I was in a bunch of pain and that's why we wouldn't run well and just use it as the why, but I don't think so," Bowman said. "We just kind of progressively got worse. We had some things happen to us that were kind of outside of our control, and it just kind of got worse and worse and worse. And I don't think all of that can be pointed at a back injury. 

"I think as a company we probably fell off through the summer some and just continued to struggle. I think the offseason was probably good for us, but there are still things on our team that we're working at and trying to get better on. This year we have a lot of fresh faces and new guys, and we're a pretty young group, so there's a lot of growth happening. We're continuing to plug away at it. I wish I could blame my back, that would make everybody feel a little better, but there's a lot of other things that we had to look at and realize that we needed to do better on."

So far, those offseason realizations have yielded what Bowman called a "hit or miss" start to the year, though he noted that positives have shown up for his team and that they are in a good place early in the springtime. It has also reinforced an overarching lesson that Bowman has learned as a winning Cup driver -- how difficult it is to hang his aspirations and sense of self on winning races and on his results, given how doing so can end in disappointment more times than not.

An ideal opportunity for Bowman to get back to Victory Lane comes this weekend, as Martinsville Speedway will be commemorating the 40th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports and the 40th anniversary of their first win in 1984. While all four Hendrick cars, including Bowman's, will carry ruby red paint schemes and seek to earn Hendrick's 29th Martinsville victory, there is work to be done. 

Bowman noted how all four Hendrick cars had been off on pace in the most recent Martinsville race last fall as the team had struggled to get a handle on its short track program, but offered the team's performance at Richmond last week compared to the previous race last July as a sign of improvement in that area.

Given what this weekend means to the company, and what Martinsville means personally to car owner Rick Hendrick, Bowman made mention of the effort that has been put in to try and win this weekend's race. What is paramount for Bowman, though, is simply winning.

This race, any race, to get back in the Winner's Circle after two years away, reestablish himself as one of the top drivers in Cup, and move past his multiple injuries -- Bowman missed five races with a concussion late in the 2022 season -- and all other frustrations brought about since his last win.

"I really want to win that race for Mr. H and for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. I really wanted to win last week, and the week before that, and the week before that," Bowman said. "Where I'm at with things right now, every week is super important.

"I definitely want to get back in Victory Lane, that's a huge goal. And after multiple injuries pretty close together and missing a lot of races, it is a big goal of mine to overcome that and get back to Victory Lane. And I'm certainly doing all the work to try to make that happen."