Still, the news that Hendrick Motorsports had picked Bowman, who filled in for an injured Earnhardt in 10 Cup Series races last season, to replace one of racing’s biggest stars likely surprised a few people Thursday.
Earnhardt, 42, has been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver for 14 consecutive seasons and as the son of racing legend, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., came to the sport with one of its most recognizable names.
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Bowman, 24, is a relative unknown who has never won a race in 81 career Cup starts – he drove 71 Cup Series races in 2014 and 2015 for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing – or 50 career Xfinity Series starts.
But Bowman showed enough promise once he got a chance in Hendrick’s top-notch cars that he reportedly turned down several offers to drive full-time in the Cup Series this season. While Earnhardt recovered from a concussion and related symptoms, Bowman won a pole and finished in the top 10 three times.
Patience paid off for Bowman, an alumnus of the NASCAR Next program, who has been helping Hendrick Motorsports with on-track testing simulations.
Reaction to the announcement, including tweets from Bowman and Earnhardt, filled social media Thursday.
Bowman offered a humble thanks while Earnhardt thanked the fans for supporting his choice.
Among the most entertaining, and perhaps even insightful, of the social media posts: this video from JR Motorsports, where Bowman gained experience driving in the Xfinity Series.
“We will always know him as more than just a racecar driver,” Natalie Sather, a former driver, lets us know. “He’s the original baby driver.”
We also learn that Bowman is a Pokemon master, a “terrible barista,” and a “pretty good adult big-wheeler.”
‘ALEX PROVED HIMSELF’
Former NASCAR Cup Series champ and Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon, who also filled in for Earnhardt last season, was among those supporting the choice.
“I think Alex proved himself last year when he got in the car,” Gordon, now an announcer for Fox NASCAR, said in an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It was tough for me to jump in there and fill those shoes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., (with) all the media and hype around that.
“... If you look at his racing background, it’s impressive. I think what he did last year was amazing. The fans and the sponsors and Dale Jr. and the whole team – they’ve all spoken because of the job that he did and the way he handled himself in the car last year.”
HANDSHAKES AND SMILES
Hendrick Motorsports posted photos and video of members of the No. 48 and 88 teams welcoming Bowman to the shop.
‘DO GREAT THINGS’
NASCAR drivers, teams and others in racing congratulated Bowman, as did some media members and fans.
A MOMENT OF GLEE
While no one ever gets the last word on social media, one of Bowman’s own tweets wraps up his big day nicely.
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