Alex Bowman confirmed for No. 88 in 2018

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By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s successor has been named.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018, Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) confirmed in a Thursday tweet and subsequent press release. The 24-year-old will compete with primary sponsorship from Nationwide Insurance (19 races) and Axalta Coating Systems (15 races).

Bowman, 24, made 10 Cup Series starts in place of Earnhardt in 2016 while the two-time Daytona 500 winner fought lingering symptoms from a concussion sustained over the spring. While splitting the ride with Jeff Gordon the Tucson, Arizona native excelled, finishing as high as sixth and earning a Coors Light Pole award at Phoenix International Raceway. As a result HMS allowed Bowman to return to the machine for the year-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, where he finished third.

“Ever since I was a kid, racing is all I’ve wanted to do,” Bowman said in a release. “I’ve had so many people believe in me along the way. My family has sacrificed a lot and always been with me. I would never have this chance without the support of Dale and everyone involved with the No. 88 team. To be part of Hendrick Motorsports and for Mr. Hendrick to have this confidence in me, it’s just amazing.

“The No. 88 team is such a great group of people. I know we can pick up where we left off last year, and I truly believe we can win races and contend for a championship. I’m excited to build on the relationship with Nationwide and all of our partners. It means the world that they have faith in me, and I’m thankful to have them on my side. Now I just want to go win.”

The move completes Bowman’s ascendance up the ladder to one of NASCAR’s top rides. Bowman first made a name for himself in the ARCA Racing Series, earning two wins in as many starts in 2011 while also competing in K&N Pro Series East before returning for a four-win 2012 campaign. He moved to the XFINITY Series with RAB Racing in 2013, where he caught the eye of the NASCAR community with two top fives and a pole at Texas Motor Speedway.

Bowman made his Cup Series debut in 2014 with BK Racing, and went on to complete two full seasons for the organization. The first connection between HMS and Bowman stretches back to 2014, when JR Motorsports fielded the young prospect for two XFINITY Series races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.

That was the beginning of a relationship between the driver and organization that’s culminated in a full-time 2018 ride. With no full-time ride for 2016 Bowman joined HMS on a more permanent basis, assisting with their simulation program and – when injuries sidelined Earnhardt – becoming one of the two drivers ready to take his place.

With Earnhardt set to retire there were rumors that Matt Kenseth or William Byron could take over the No. 88 Chevrolet, but after his successful run in 2016 HMS owner Rick Hendrick knew Bowman was the man for the job.

“Alex impressed the heck out of us last year with his talent, poise and professionalism,” Hendrick said. “He stepped up in a very demanding situation and showed that he can run with the best and compete for wins. His ability to stay focused through it all, and the way he’s handled himself since then, has shown a lot of character. Greg and the team loved working with Alex, and that dynamic will get even better with more time together.”

Bowman’s announcement completes one part of this year’s silly season puzzle. Still remaining are the incoming vacancy of Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Toyota and landing spots (or lack thereof) for Kenseth and Darrell Wallace Jr. Other potential surprises could also arise.

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