As we all know Dale Earnhardt Jr. stepped away from the Cup Series as a full-time driver last season but the No. 88 will be lined up to start at the Daytona 500 in a few weeks.
Alex Bowman will not only be replacing the 15-time Cup Series Most Popular Driver for Hendrick Motorsports, but he’ll be doing so in the new No. 88 Chevy Camaro ZL1. Big shoes to fill but, at least Bowman has a pretty sweet ride to make his own mark on the sport in the car Dale Jr. made famous.
A few months removed from the emotion that went along with saying goodbye to one of the only things he’d ever know, Earnhardt has had a chance to reflect on last season as well as his hopes for the future of the No. 88, which can be seen in Alex Bowman: Racing to in Episode 1: 88 The Past and the Future.
“That whole year you did a lot of reflecting during the season and now it’s time, the new year to close the door and open the next one,” Earnhardt said.
Dale Jr. talked about his biggest fear for Homestead, and how it lead to a classic end to his career.
“The one thing that I feared would be that in the whole process of the Homestead weekend, was my guys would be ignored or separated from the experience,” he said. So he said the best way to celebrate with them was hoist a beer.
But his attention then turned to Bowman.
“We have to be quite honest, getting Alex with his talent, being able to work with him at JR Motorsports, helped JR Motorsports,” Earnhardt said. “It wasn’t like we were sacrificing something to work with Alex, we wanted to work with Alex because we knew he was talented as a driver.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick credits Dale Jr. for seeing the talent in Bowman and says if it weren’t for Earnhardt he wouldn’t have noticed it.
“I like Alex as a person, an individual but you can see the raw talent and I give Dale Earnhardt the credit because I wouldn’t have noticed Alex if it wasn’t for Dale,” Hendrick said. “Dale said, ‘this kid’s got tremendous talent, we need to give him a shot.'”
Bowman ran 10 races for Hendrick in 2016 driving the No. 88 while Earnhardt was battling concussion issues and took last season off to watch and learn from the man he is now replacing.
“To battle for opportunities and do all the things to stay the course this last season, he basically just sat on the sidelines to be a backup quarterback the entire year,” Earnhardt said. “But he knew if he could patiently do that, this could be an opportunity for him — that’s a very hard thing to do.
“I have become a fan of his ethic, his approach,” Earnhardt added. “I’ve always known he was talented and once he gets the right opportunity, he’s going to take off and I look forward to him proving that point this year.”
Bowman has two full-time Cup Series seasons under his belt, but this will be his first with Hendrick Motorsports. He’s definitely with an amazing racing team and in a great car, so it will be interesting to see what he does in 2018.