For the first time since announcing the signing of Alex Bowman to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, team founder and owner Rick Hendrick met with the press to talk about the move.
Sunday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Hendrick, Bowman, Earnhardt and Nationwide’s director of motorsports marketing Jim McCoy met with the press to talk about their 2018 plans.
Here are 7 key takeaways from the Hendrick press conference.
Bowman’s deal is for three years, Hendrick said, and it was signed last year. That means Bowman is under contract this year and for all of 2018 and ’19. As long as Earnhardt stays healthy for the rest of this year, Bowman won’t actually drive the Monster Energy Cup Series car until next year. He could do some XFINITY Series races later this year, though.
Sponsors weigh in
Team owner Rick Hendrick made it clear that the good impression Bowman made with Nationwide and Axalta helped his cause a lot. “His relationship with the sponsors through that period played a big factor,” Hendrick said of Bowman. “ …He’s committed, talented and he deserves the opportunity. I’m super excited to have him in the car.”
Four cars next year
Despite the rumors about Hendrick Motorsports downsizing next year, Hendrick said that isn’t the case. “The plan is to run four cars next year,” Hendrick said. He made no mention, however, of Kasey Kahne’s status.
Byron staying put
William Byron, the sensational 19-year old driver who won Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the Brickyard, will remain where he is next year and not move up to Cup. “He’s definitely going to be in the XFINITY car,” Hendrick said. “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”
You can count Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Bowman’s biggest fan, or one of them. “I believe in his talent on the racetrack,” Earnhardt said of Bowman. “But his commitment off the racetrack to work to further his career to me over the last several years has been impressive.
“There are a lot of guys that have the talent and need that one critical break. And if they stay committed and keep pushing and are willing to make the sacrifices, eventually that opportunity might come along,” Earnhardt said. “Alex is the perfect example of that. I think he gets this opportunity because of his commitment to his own career and his gamble that he made a long, long time ago.”
A regular guy
Bowman grew up in Tucson, the son of an automotive painter. He certainly doesn’t view himself as a big shot for taking over from Earnhardt. “I’m a regular guy,” Bowman said. “I come from working in a body shop as a kid doing prep work for my dad’s paint shop. … I feel like we’ve done this the old-school way a little bit. I came from driving lower-budget cars, and somehow, I’ve been blessed enough to make it work.”
Matt Kenseth is looking for a ride for next year, and Hendrick was asked if the team had seriously considered the 2003 Cup champion. “I love Matt Kenseth. I love him,” said Hendrick. “He’s a tremendous talent. In the past, he and I have talked about how sometimes things just don’t line up at the right time.”