Speed from this team should come as no surprise since Earnhardt Jr. started first in half of the restrictor plate races in 2017 and Hendrick Motorsports has now won four consecutive poles in the “Great American Race.”
While this will provide Bowman an advantage to start Sunday’s race, more importantly, it establishes a platform for him to become known as more than just Earnhardt Jr.’s successor.
Much of the conversation surrounding the 24-year-old during the opening weekend of Speedweeks focused on his position as Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement, not his rise to HMS.
Little was mentioned of Bowman’s only other DAYTONA 500 start in 2014 with BK Racing and his climb from the underfunded ranks of the sport to one of the top organizations.
Few drivers have ever been able to advance their careers this way and while Bowman began his time behind the wheel of less competitive cars, it allowed him to make the necessary growth to succeed today.
“Honestly, I think I’m better because of the things that I had to go through,” Bowman said. “I got to make a lot of mistakes without anybody watching. Just never give up.”
He failed to qualify for this race in 2015 and now three seasons later, he will lead the field to the green flag, a feat even Bowman himself still can’t believe.
“Yeah, I mean, I never ‑‑ I mean, if you talked to me in 2015 and told me that in 2018 I was going to be driving the 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports, I would have called you nuts,” Bowman said.
Bowman’s unorthodox – but successful – path to a full-time ride for one of the sport’s top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organizations is an incredible achievement in itself and should be the focus after accomplishing the most significant feat of his career so far by taking the pole.
“You know, everything happens for a reason,” Bowman said. “My career had a lot of ups and downs, and I’ve been able to lean on my past experiences a lot to make me better and to better prepare myself for this job.”
The week of coverage ahead will be important for Bowman to begin establishing his name and telling his story as the new driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet.
While his connection to Earnhardt Jr. will always be present and essential to where he is today, this pole award is the first opportunity to emerge from the shadow of the 15-time most popular driver and begin writing the next chapter of his career.
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