CONCORD, N.C. – Last season, Jeff Gordon saw Alex Bowman’s skill and potential up close.
The pair of drivers both served as substitutes inside the No. 88 Chevrolet SS in the second half of the 2016 season as Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from a concussion.
And from the young driver’s first start inside the car, Gordon was impressed with what he saw.
“I had a chance to get behind the wheel with the 88 team and it was tough for me to jump in there and fill those shoes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and all the media and hype around that, so for a young man like Alex to get in there and do the job that he did,” Gordon said. “He’s paid his dues. He’s worked hard.”
In his very first start with Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman was running inside the top 10 with less than 30 laps to go before a tire issue sent him to a 26th-place finish.
But his impressive performance helped earn him another start, and once again he was off to a fast start, jumping inside the top five before engine issues resulted in a 30th-place finish.
Despite the result, Bowman’s potential was on display, and it earned him eight more races in the No. 88 Chevrolet down the stretch in 2016. By the end of the campaign, he had earned three top-10s and a pole position.
“He was able to run those 10 races last year because he performed in the first one, in the first two,” No. 88 team crew chief Greg Ives said. “And Jeff was instrumental in trying to help keep him in the car. Jeff could easily have taken all the races but he saw a young talent, somebody that was able to be the future here at Hendrick Motorsports.”
Now, Bowman has officially been named the full-time driver of the No. 88 Chevy beginning in 2018.
“I think Alex proved himself last year when he got in the car,” Gordon said. “I think what he did last year was amazing. Really, the fans and the sponsors and Dale Jr., they’ve all spoken because of the job that he did and the way that he handled himself last year. So, I don’t think there’s any surprise that he’s getting this opportunity.”
And with the announcement made, Gordon believes the future is bright for the No. 88 team – including for the remainder of Earnhardt’s final season.
“They can just focus on what they’re doing this year and then also know what’s coming in the future and being prepared,” he said. “Plus, they have experience with Alex so he’s a natural fit. Greg Ives and that whole team they worked with him enough to know what the transition is going to be like.
“I think it’s going to be really smooth.”