CONCORD, N.C. – With Alex Bowman climbing behind the wheel of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS next season, some have wondered if he will feel pressure to follow in the footsteps of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Bowman doesn’t see it that way.
“I think there was more pressure last year,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, referring to his 10-race stint as a substitute driver for the No. 88 team in 2016 while Earnhardt was recovering from a concussion.
“I hadn’t done anything, really, in the Cup Series in my career, so to get into a car like that, there was a lot of pressure to perform. Because I knew if I did, I could completely change the direction that my career was going.”
And he can’t thank Earnhardt enough for helping make that opportunity a reality.
"He really lobbied hard for me," Bowman said. "Giving me that one chance to impress (Hendrick Motorsports owner) Mr. (Rick) Hendrick meant the world to me, and I think it ended up paying off."
It certainly did, as he took advantage of the chance and built a relationship with his No. 88 teammates in the process.
Together, Bowman and the No. 88 team earned three top-10 finishes and a pole position along with 203 laps led.
“You know, that 88 team has become some of my best friends and they’re like family to me at this point,” he said. “So great to work with that group of people.
“As much pressure as there was, I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun inside a race car. Definitely looking forward to more of that fun coming up in 2018.”
When the news broke that Bowman would be taking over Earnhardt’s Nationwide ride in 2018, needless to say, the driver’s phone was busy.
He said he received 565 text messages -- in addition to making a very important phone call to his grandmother -- and made sure to respond to every single one.
“It took me a long time – a lot of people got texts really late at night,” he laughed. “I just can’t thank everybody enough. Everybody has been so supportive and it just means a lot to me for Hendrick Motorsports to take a chance on me and for all my friends and family to be so supportive.
“I just hope to make them proud next year.”