Alex Bowman was ready this time.
When Bowman got the word this week that Hendrick Motorsports would again need him to drive in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Bowman knew where to go, what to do and when to do it.
That’s in contrast to the first time he was summoned to fill in for Earnhardt this summer.
Then, Bowman was at work in Hendrick’s simulation department on a Thursday afternoon – without his telephone. The decision had just been made that concussion symptoms wouldn’t allow Earnhardt to race that week at New Hampshire.
I’m happy to fill in as needed. I have just been hoping he gets to feeling better more than anything.
Crew chief Greg Ives tried to reach Bowman, a journeyman driver without a full-time ride, but to no avail. When Bowman was finally tracked down, he had to leave the simulation department and head directly for the airport.
“They’re pretty flexible when you tell them you’ve got to drive the No. 88 car and that you need to leave a couple hours early to get to the airport,” Bowman said.
The next day, Bowman was practicing the No. 88 Chevy at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Two days later, he finished eighth in the race.
This weekend is the first time since New Hampshire that Bowman has driven for Earnhardt. Jeff Gordon, who had a scheduling conflict that didn’t allow him to be at Michigan for the full weekend, has driven in four races since and will do so again next week at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Earnhardt’s status beyond Darlington is still unknown.
So it’s another chance to impress for Bowman, 23, a native of Tucson, Ariz., who is one of the uncounted number of young drivers who moved to North Carolina to follow a NASCAR dream.
Bowman had full-time Cup rides in 2014 and ’15, but was released by Tommy Baldwin Racing before this season.
After one season racing in NASCAR’s K&N Series, Bowman worked his way into the Xfinity Series, where he drove 32 races in 2013 for Robby Benton. He quickly moved up to Sprint Cup driving fulltime for BK Racing in 2014 and Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2015. His best finish was a 13th at Daytona’s summer race in 2014.
But last January, just a few weeks before the season-opening Daytona 500, Bowman said he learned on Twitter that he’d been fired by Baldwin. A few hours later, Baldwin announced it had hired Regan Smith.
Tommy Baldwin Racing quickly said it regretted not informing Bowman directly of its decision.
6 Bowman’s starting position in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.
“The circumstances surrounding Alex’s release via social media was unfortunate and certainly unintentional,” the team said in a statement. “The culture of doing business in motorsports has become more complex and involves many parties such as agents, business managers, attorneys and sponsors. A comment in passing may be overheard and subsequently conveyed to the media.
“Our intention, as it always is, was to follow business protocol and notify Alex and his management of our decision. Again, it’s unfortunate that confidentiality was compromised, and the news delivered in this manner.”
No longer having a Cup ride, Bowman went to work for Hendrick’s simulation program, but it’s a gig for which he’s needed only two days a week. He also has driven five Xfinity races for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports.
As Bowman said in a recent Tweet: “Last day of work for the week. Wish I was running at (Bristol Motor Speedway). Somebody hire me.”
“He’s just a young kid, very eager, very willing to listen,” Ives said on SiriusXM satellite radio.
Bowman starts sixth Sunday, the best qualifying effort of his Cup career. He can draw on the experience of Gordon, who is scheduled to be at the race. For the No. 88 team, it will be another challenge in a season that has gone awry since Earnhardt suffered a concussion during the first Michigan race in June.
“It’s been interesting, to say the least,” Ives said on SiriusXM of having three drivers in the car. “I wouldn’t say stressful. I think you put in the same amount of effort no matter what driver was in the car. More or less, it does stress the shop a little bit having to figure out whose seat is going in what cars, the seat swap sort of thing.”
Bowman said he’s spoken with Earnhardt, whom he considers a close friend.
“(He) and I went back and forth (Friday morning) on what to expect and what he thought the race car was going to do.
“I’m happy to fill in as needed. I have just been hoping he gets to feeling better more than anything.”