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Bowman At Texas: ‘I’m Not Dale Earnhardt Jr.’

| , RacinToday.com Friday, September 22 2017

Alex Bowman tested his new ride at Texas Motor Speedway.
(RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Alex Bowman’s first fulltime Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season officially is underway.

Bowman, the driver who will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his season-ending retirement from Hendrick Motorsports, participated in a unique test at Texas Motor Speedway involving NASCAR’s three OEM partners. Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford joined Goodyear Racing for a two-day wheel force transducer test that concluded Wednesday afternoon. Designed to gather data for the manufacturers and teams to improve their simulation programs for 2018, the session also served as a jumpstart for Bowman.

Bowman, who will wheel the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 beginning next season, lapped TMS’ recently repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval along with two other drivers. Landon Cassill, driver of the No. 34 entry for Front Row Motorsports, represented Ford. And Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver Drew Herring, who has two starts in the No. 24 NASCAR Xfinity Series for the organization, represented Toyota.

Bowman, 24, already is familiar with the No. 88 Chevrolet SS after serving as Dale Jr.’s replacement driver in 10 of the final 18 Cup Series races in 2016 while he was sidelined with a concussion. Bowman earned three top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place result at Phoenix Raceway after starting from the pole.

Bowman, who does not have a ride in 2017, earned the backing of Junior as the prime candidate to replace him. Team-owner Rick Hendrick subsequently announced Bowman’s selection in July. Having not raced in either Cup or Xfinity this season, Bowman recorded valuable seat time during the test at TMS, a track where he has earned two of his three career Xfinity Series poles.

“Texas has really changed a lot since the last time I’ve been here,” Bowman said. “It’s been really interesting. (Turns) 1 and 2 are definitely tricky. It’s really hard with three cars to get the track rubbered-in and blown off.”

Speedway Motorsports, Inc.’s offseason renovation project saw TMS’ entire 1.5-mile layout and pit road repaved. In addition, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and the track widened from 60 to 80-feet in that area. Turns 3 and 4 have retained their traditional 24-degree banking.

The pressure of replacing Earnhardt Jr., who has won NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” award for 14 consecutive seasons, hasn’t fazed Bowman. He will join a lineup led by seven-time/reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet, Chase Elliott in the No. 24 and rookie Cup driver William Byron in the No. 5 currently driven by lame duck Kasey Kahne.  

“I’m going to have as much fun as I can,” Bowman said. “I’m not Dale Earnhardt Jr. I can only be myself. I’m going to do my thing. It’s just a normal race car. It’s not any different from anything that I’ve done. It’s just that we have more tools and more resources to be more competitive.”

While Earnhardt Jr. is headed to a television analyst’s career with NBC Sports next season, Bowman knows Junior will still be available for advice.

“I think he’s going to be a big part of the (No.) 88 team,” Bowman said. “He’s a great person to have for support and a great teammate to lean on. I think he’s going to be a big part of the team and we’ll kind of just wait and see. He’s been a big part of it so far when I’ve been in the car. I think going forward in 2018 it will be more of the same.”

TMS will salute Earnhardt Jr. _ who scored his first Xfinity win (1998) and Cup win (2000) at the facility in far north Fort Worth _ during the upcoming AAA Texas 500 weekend on Sunday, Nov. 5. Tickets for the playoff event are available by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com or by calling (817) 215-8500

| , RacinToday.com Friday, September 22 2017
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