Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevy in 2018 as Earnhardt is set to retire from NASCAR next season.
“Ever since I was a kid, racing is all I’ve wanted to do,” Bowman said in a statement released by the team. “I’ve had so many people believe in me along the way. My family has sacrificed a lot and always been behind me. I would never have this chance without the support of Dale and everyone involved with the No. 88 team. To be part of Hendrick Motorsports and for Mr. Hendrick to have this confidence in me, it’s just amazing.”
Ready to go win some races. Thanks to everybody for all the support. Never thought this day would come. Driving the 88 in 2018! pic.twitter.com/NxDEm2v4CG
The 24-year-old driver will have sponsorship from Earnhardt’s two main sponsors this season: Nationwide Insurance, which will cover 19 races, and Axalta, which will take 15. That puts Bowman at 34 races, just two races shy of a full season not including exhibition races such as the All-Star and Duel races. Also, current crew chief Greg Ives will remain on the box for Bowman.
Bowman is not new to Hendrick Motorsports. Last year, he and Jeff Gordon subbed for Earnhardt while he recovered from a concussion. In 10 starts, Bowman accumulated three top-10’s, started from the pole at Phoenix Raceway, where he also led 194 laps, and had an average finish on 19.7. In comparison, Gordon raced eight times, had two top-10’s, led seven laps and had an average finish of 13.8. Bowman also had six lead lap finishes, while Gordon had seven.
“The No. 88 team is such a great group of people,” Bowman said. “I know we can pick up where we left off last year, and I truly believe we can win races and contend for a championship. I’m excited to build on the relationship with Nationwide and all of our partners. It means the world that they have faith in me, and I’m thankful to have them on my side. Now I just want to go win.”
Bowman spent the bulk of 2017 as a test driver for both Hendrick Motorsports and Team Chevy, driving a simulator and going to tire tests.
Team owner Rick Hendrick praised the young driver, who ran full-time with little success in 2014 and 2015. Hendrick said last year’s 10-race performance proved Bowman can compete in NASCAR’s top level.
“Alex impressed the heck out of us last year with his talent, poise and professionalism,” Hendrick said. “He stepped up in a very demanding situation and showed that he can run with the best and compete for wins. His ability to stay focused through it all, and the way he’s handled himself since then, has shown a lot of character. Greg and the team loved working with Alex, and that dynamic will get even better with more time together.”
Gordon also chimed in on the announcement on Sirius XM NASCAR radio Thursday and said he believes Bowman deserves the ride and is the best fit for the car.
“I think Alex proved himself last year when he got in the car,” Gordon said. “I had a chance to get behind the wheel of the No. 88 team, and it was tough for me to fill the shoes of Dale Jr. with all the media and hype around the car. For a young man like Alex to get in there and do the job that he did, and then all the work that he’s been doing in the simulator, he’s paid his dues.
“If you look at his racing background, its impressive. I think what he did last year was amazing. I don’t think there’s any surprise that he’s getting this opportunity. He’s a natural fit.”
The details of the deal, including salary and length are not known, but Nationwide Insurance did re-sign for a one-year deal. Most driver contracts in NASCAR typically run about three years.
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