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Alex Bowman best candidate to inherit No. 88

In the two days since Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement from full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of the 2017 season, speculation of who’ll be the heir apparent to the vacated No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has run rampant. Some of the speculation — by fans, not insiders, mind you — has been somewhat off-the-wall. Heck, some fans, either jonesing for a Carl Edwards return, or continuing to conspiracy theorize that Edwards wasn’t exactly honest in his departure speech and his departure is actually part of a grand scheme for him to return with a different team, and perhaps a different manufacturer, have Cousin Carl returning to drive the No. 88 next year. Umm, no, I definitely don’t see that one happening.
I  consider that one as believable as the imagined grand scheme of Edwards already having a deal to make a grand return with Dodge.
I’ve also heard the names of Erik Jones and William Byron thrown into the mix. No, I don’t think so on those two accounts, either. I don’t see Jones leaving the Gibbs fold, and I don’t think Byron is ready. Byron is already in the Hendrick camp as an Xfinity Series driver for JR Motorsports, but I don’t think he’ll be ready for Cup next season. Sure, Joey Logano has recovered nicely from being moved by Cup too soon by JGR several years ago, but I don’t see Rick Hendrick repeating the mistake.
Kyle Larson’s name also has been a part of this rumor mill, but he’s haapy at Chip Ganassi Racing. And considering the season he’s having, I don’t see him jumping ship anytime soon.
I fall squarely in the Alex Bowman camp. I have a feeling that Bowman has known that he’s close to a full-time ride at HMS. After all, since his stint as Earnhardt’s substitute last year, Bowman has, reportedly, received impressive offers from quality teams at both the Cup and Xfinity level, but he’s turned the down. For what, the dream of driving a simulator? Okay, for most NASCAR fans, the opportunity to work at Hendrick Motorsports in any capacity would be a dream come true. But for a talented race car driver that has had a taste of driving one of the most recognizable cars in NASCAR’s top series, driving a simulator isn’t exactly the ultimate career goal.
Besides, Bowman has already shown promise in the No. 88 he may wind up inheriting back when he was filling in for the sidelined Earnhardt in the second half of the 2016 season. Remember Phoenix last November? He won the pole and dominated the race. Specifically, he led 194 laps (nearly two-thirds of the race) and looked poised for a first-career win before getting caught up in a late-race incident.
In all, Bowman piloted the No. 88 in 10 races last year. and finished in the top-10 three times. Three top-10s and no top-fives in a 10-race stretch may not be astronomical stats at Hendrick Motorsports. That organization is, after all, home to reigning and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson. But for a driver who didn’t run anything Cup-related, except that simulator, in the first half of the season and was new to the at-the-track, on-track portion of the race team, those are, I think, pretty impressive stats.
Don’t believe me? consider this. While Bowman drove the No. 88 for 10 races in the second half of 2016, recently-retired, four-time champion Jeff Gordon was in the driver’s seat for the other eight. Gordon didn’t finish in the top-five with the car, either. And in his eight races, he just posted two top-10s. Bowman ran at least as well as Gordon in the No. 88, and maybe, perhaps, a little better. He did win a pole and put on that dominating performance at PIR.
For reference, Earnhardt Jr., the car’s regular driver, posted six top-10s in his 18 races. So, look at it this way. Earnhardt posted twice the top-10s as Bowman, but he also ran almost twice as many races. To Earnhardt’s credit, though, he did finish in the top-five five times last season.
Bowman’s already shown he’s ready to take over the reigns of the No. 88, don’t you think? I do.
Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (facebook.com/nascarexaminer)

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Posted by on April 27, 2017. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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