News Analysis: Alex Bowman replaces Dale Earnhardt Jr. in No. 88 car

What happened: After nearly three months of speculation, we now know who Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement will be in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 car next year: Alex Bowman. Earnhardt sponsors Nationwide (19 races) and Axalta (increasing from 13 to 15 races) will back the team for most of the season.

What it means: Bowman, who had received endorsements from both Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson, has now made one of the most unlikely career comebacks in memory. Despite being just 24 years old, Bowman’s chances of making a career in NASCAR appeared to be slim after he was fired by Tommy Baldwin Racing just a month before last season’s Daytona 500. But he ran well with limited opportunities for JR Motorsports and then as Earnhardt’s substitute in the 88, nearly winning last fall’s Phoenix race. He remained a valuable member of Hendrick’s organization this season by continuing to drive the Chevy simulator and help with setups, which strengthened his bond with the team. It also means the most prized seat of Silly Season has been taken.

News value (scale of 1-10): Eight. Although Bowman made the most sense for this position, whoever replaced Earnhardt was going to be pretty big news no matter what. It’s also somewhat surprising and significant Hendrick was able to convince its sponsors to back an unproven driver — three top-10 finishes in 81 Cup starts — after being associated with NASCAR’s biggest stars (Axalta was with Jeff Gordon before Earnhardt).

Three questions: Now that Axalta is sticking with the 88, does that mean there’s less of a reason to rush Axalta-sponsored Xfinity Series rookie William Byron into Cup next season? How long will Bowman get to prove himself if he doesn’t produce results? Can Bowman convince some of Earnhardt’s fans to stay with the 88 and make himself a star driver in the process?

18 Replies to “News Analysis: Alex Bowman replaces Dale Earnhardt Jr. in No. 88 car”

  1. Is this only a one year deal or multiple? Is nationwide using this as a test year before committing long term.

  2. I can proudly say I have been an Alex Bowman fan through it all! I cheered when he was the no name rookie and I met him with my daughter in 2015 when he was with Tommy Baldwin Racing. I cried when he lost that ride to Reagan Smith before the start of 2016. I cried again, but this time with tears of joy as he got the pole at Phoenix last year and once more when he got 3rd in the shootout at the beginning of this year. I have been there through it all, a loyal and dedicated fan! I’m sure I will cry like a baby when he gets his first win! I’m not jumping on the 88 bandwagon, no I have always stood by Alex! And now I’m crying again because for the first time since becoming a fan, I feel like Alex has the future he deserves! Make us proud Alex! Make us proud!

  3. Honestly, I think Bowman will hit the ground running. He showed plenty of speed before in HMS equipment. Hope he runs well. Great opportunity to show what he can do. Byron will get his chance soon.

  4. Well I can’t say that I’m happy about this. I wont be congratulating him. I won’t be pulling for him. But I won’t say anything negative.

  5. Having known Alex since before he was old enough to drink (we met through mutual friend), I am absolutely thrilled for him. It’s been a long road. Very glad Nationwide and Axalta are staying on.

  6. I think this is a great move! Alex Bowman hit the ground running last year when he was needed, and I expect we will see no less in 2018. Having Nationwide and Axalta continuing their sponsorship is a huge commitment that I have no doubt will pay off, as all eyes will be on Bowman. Kudos to Rick Hendrick on a good decision!

  7. I imagine Nationwide and Axalta are getting a nice discount for sticking around with a young driver. Good for them for sticking around nonetheless.

  8. I’ve never cheered for a Hendrick Driver, but Bowman will be my first. He’s a great kid and he deserves this ride.

  9. What happened to the day you were supposed to win in some series before you get a ride like the 88? Have I missed something?

  10. I think Bowman certainly earned his shot at driving the #88. Good for the sponsors for being willing to stay and back him.

  11. There is a lot of upside to putting Bowman in the car as opposed to anyone else, including William Byron. First- He knows the crew chief and team. They obviously have a relationship that works, (see last year’s stint in the car), and had Alex won Phoenix, as he should have, I don’t think we;d be seeing many dissenters to this decision.

    The sponsors currently with the 88 are staying, which says that Alex’s “dress rehearsal” as the driver last year went over well with those sponsors. Additionally, Hendrick, who has lots of people capable of judging talent, must have green lighted Bowman for this position as well. They aren’t going to put a no-talent, no upside person in that car.

    William Byron, while spectacular in everything he has driven so far, doesn’t have the relationships at the Cup level, both with the team and with sponsors, (with the possible exception of Axalta who just started with him this year), and that means a lot. Plus, Hendrick can groom him to be some other sponsor’s darling while a seat is arranged for him, (likely the 5 car ).

  12. I have been a Bowman fan since the beginning! He ran well in the Xfinity series when he was a rookie. He just happen to have been overshadowed by Kyle Larson that year. So I am thrilled that he is in the 88. I now have a driver to cheer for and the cup series.

  13. Jimmie Johnson also advised Rick Hendrick to keep Casey Mears over Kyle Busch. Just sayin’.

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