Bowman not feeling the pressure of the 88 ride

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 27, 2018 at 6:56 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Taking over the seat of NASCAR’s 16-time Most Popular Driver. It’s not that much pressure according to Alex Bowman, who will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet this season.

“Not really, I have a pretty strong desire to win races and I’m hungry for wins,” Bowman said at the NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway when asked about the pressure of taking over the ride. “I think that matters more to me than any pressure anybody is going to put on me.”

Bowman, a 24-year-old from Arizona, now has the ride of the most famous driver in NASCAR over the past two decades. It’s not his first time in the car as Bowman subbed for 10 races at the end of the 2016 season when Earnhardt was recovering from concussion symptoms.

In that small sampling, Bowman posted three top-10 finishes and delivered his best performance at his home track of Phoenix, where he sat on the pole and led 194 laps before ultimately finishing sixth.

Bowman made his debut in 2014, running a full season for BK Racing. He also drove for a season for Tommy Baldwin Jr. before getting the opportunity to sub for Earnhardt. He patiently waited in the 2017 season, running just a pair of NASCAR Xfinity Series races with a win in a Chip Ganassi car.

“I’m glad that it all worked out this way,” Bowman said. “I could have easily gone a different direction. Very thankful for how things have gone. Hopefully, we will see a big payoff with race wins and contending for a championship.”

The Charlotte win was important for his confidence and to show how he could quickly get back up to speed. He hopes to have good enough performance for the Earnhardt fans to gravitate to the No. 88 team’s new driver, and pointed out that he has four more starts in the Cup Series than teammate Chase Elliott.

“There are a lot of fans looking for a new guy and hopefully I can be a guy that people want to cheer for,” he said. “Obviously, the No. 88 has a larger following and I’m going to do my best to keep JR Nation happy and keep that No. 88 car up front. That is what they hired me to do.

“I’m a regular, down-to-earth guy and I feel like I’m relatable to a lot of the average NASCAR fans. I work on a lot of street car and race car stuff myself. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and I’m very appreciative of this opportunity. So hopefully they can kind of relate to me and become fans.”

Bowman has seen quick success in a number of series, winning Rookie of the Year in USAC Midgets, NASCAR K&N East and the ARCA Series.

He sees some parallels between himself and Earnhardt, but acknowledged they are in different places in their lives and respective careers. Beyond the track, Earnhardt was sometimes referred to as the “Pied Piper of NASCAR” because of the influence he had on so much of the fan base.

“It’s hard for me to look at, not that Dale Jr. is not down to earth, but it’s hard for me to look at him and relate to him as far as his status,” Bowman said. “I mean everywhere he goes, he is followed by a huge crowd of people and everybody wants to talk to him, wants an autograph, wants a picture. I can’t really look at myself and see that in any way. I’m so thankful to hopefully get some of those fans and have some of that carry over. But as far as a person, he is very down to earth and very regular. I think there is a big parallel there.”

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