NASCAR: Alex Bowman ready to follow in Jimmie Johnson’s footsteps

Geoff Magliocchetti
Feb 12, 2020; Daytona, FL, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman (88) addresses the media during NASCAR Media Day at the Daytona 500 Club. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

A familiar face will take over the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet when Jimmie Johnson moves on after the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Taylor Swift would probably be proud of the recent decision from NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports, as what they were looking for was there the whole time.

This week, HMS announced that the No. 48 Chevrolet set to be vacated by Jimmie Johnson will be occupied by his teammate Alex Bowman in 2021. Johnson, a record seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, is set to retire at the end of the 2020 season. He has driven team owner Rick Hendrick’s No. 48 on a full-time basis since 2002.

Ally Financial will be retained as the No. 48’s primary sponsor while Bowman’s crew chief, Greg Ives, will follow him over.

“I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Bowman said in a teleconference after the announcement. “My initial reaction was just being excited and honored to drive the No. 48 car. Jimmie’s meant a lot to me throughout my career. Everything he’s done for me, whether it’s being a friend off of the racetrack and just being someone to get advice from or being a great teammate, it’s been awesome to get to work with him and get to know him.”

“To get to drive that car is an honor and I just want to go get it in victory lane and have a lot of fun doing it.”

Bowman, 27, currently drives the No. 88 Chevorlet for HMS. The shift to one of NASCAR’s most iconic rides is part of an incredible racing journey that began on the local short tracks of California and his native Arizona. His success was enough to warrant consideration at NASCAR’s lower levels, including a full-time Cup Series chance with the underfunded BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing.

His first opportunity with HMS came in the latter stages of 2016. He and another Cup Series/Hendrick legend, four-time champion Jeff Gordon shared pilot duties of the No. 88 after Dale Earnhardt Jr. dealt with concussion issues. Bowman would take over the car full-time in 2018 after a retiring Earnhardt endorsed his takeover.

“I think the biggest thing when it comes down to ‘doing it right’ is to get the 48 back in victory lane, to go win races and contend for a championship” Bowman said. “I feel like we’re very capable of doing that. We’ve done that throughout the year this year, and hopefully we’ll continue to. In the 48 car we’re going to be up front, for sure.”

Johnson took to Twitter to express his approval.

Since then, Bowman has reached the Cup Series playoffs in each of his three seasons behind the wheel. He took home his first career Cup Series win in 2019 at Chicagoland and earned another this season at Fontana back in March, when he led 110 of 200 laps to win the Auto Club 400. Ironically, Johnson’s first win also came at the two-mile track during his rookie season. Bowman currently sits in seven place in the playoff standings, 22 points ahead of the cutoff to the Round of 8. The Round of 12 drivers ends on Sunday afternoon at the Bank of America Roval 400 in Charlotte (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

The move more or less amounts to Bowman’s No. 88 team rebranding as the 48. HMS still plans to run four cars next season, but it’s not clear who will drive the vacated 88 next season. Speculation has persisted that the car will revert to one of Hendrick’s former brandings like the Nos. 5 or 25. Terry Labonte drove the No. 5 to the Cup Series championship in 1996 and the number was last used by Kasey Kahne in 2017. Hendrick’s No. 25 has not raced on a full-time basis since 2007 with Casey Mears behind the wheel. It has since made brief appearances as a part-time car, hosting the Cup Series debuts of current stars Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott (who remains in the HMS stable in the No. 9 Chevrolet).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags