Twin faith and perfect timing led Bowman,Hendrick to 2018 pairing.

Nigel Kinrade/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — Some weren’t sure whether Alex Bowman would be the one to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.

For Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) and – most importantly – Bowman himself, there was never any doubt.

“I didn’t want to see Dale tell me he was going to want to retire, but we had Alex in the back of our mind for whatever opportunity we had,” Hendrick said in a Sunday availability at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It wasn’t much of a decision at all. Alex was the guy.”

Bowman, 24, has slowly built up a connection to HMS. The pairing began when the Tucson, Arizona native made two starts for affiliate JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series in late 2014. The partnership continued in small spurts through 2015 and into 2016, where Bowman got the opportunity of a lifetime.

When Earnhardt was forced out of the No. 88 Chevrolet midway through the 2016 season with what was later confirmed to be a concussion, Hendrick was unsure of what move to make. A recommendation from Earnhardt himself led to Bowman.

“Well, Alex, I believe in his talent on the racetrack,” Earnhardt said. “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. 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. He’s really had to make some sacrifices.”

From the time he came to HMS, Bowman’s name has never left the veteran car owner’s mind. The fourth-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver was announced as Earnhardt’s replacement in the HMS No. 88 Chevrolet for 2018 last week, a feat Hendrick admits came due to his commitment and drive.

“Well, when we called on Alex when Dale got hurt, to be honest with you I didn’t know a lot about Alex,” Hendrick said. “I was going off of Dale’s recommendation. Then when he got in the car and the way he performed and the feedback he had with all of the teammates and crew chiefs, they were just super excited about how he performed. Then his relationship with the sponsors through that period played a big factor. And I think what really impressed me was he was so committed to our organization that he was willing to sign a deal just to do the Wheel Force car for GM or the simulator and wait for an opportunity.”

There were other opportunities available for both Hendrick and Bowman. Matt Kenseth was mentioned as a potential fill-in at one point. Hendrick noted that the two had talked, saying “I love him. 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.”

William Byron also came to mind, but Hendrick wasn’t ready to elevate him up after his rookie year in the XFINITY Series.

“He’s definitely going to be in the XFINITY car (next year),” Hendrick said. “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”

No – the perfect driver for the opportunity was Bowman. Now, after taking a calculated risk, Bowman’s Cup Series dream is set to come true.

It was a big leap of faith. I said no to a lot of solid opportunities that I really appreciated getting,” Bowman said. “Hendrick Motorsports is where I’ve always wanted to be. I was a big Jeff Gordon fan as a kid. Driving for Hendrick Motorsports is what I wanted to do my entire life. To get the opportunity to stay this year in whatever capacity, I was very happy to take that. I didn’t know what was going to happen from there.

“I knew that, given the right chances, I could go and win races. But I’ve always said I didn’t want to go back to running 35th every week. I kind of took a chance with it, and I’m very glad it all worked out.”

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