Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday that Alex Bowman will replace Jimmie Johnson next season, shifting to the organization’s No. 48 Chevrolet for the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021.
Bowman is in his third season with the Rick Hendrick-owned team, having joined the organization full time in 2018 as the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Now on the heels of following the 15-time winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award, the 27-year-old Bowman has become the next in line for the ride made famous by a seven-time series champion.
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“We just got done with the ‘what’s it like to take over Dale Jr.’s race car’ question, so now we’re following it up with the Jimmie Johnson’s race car questions. To me, it’s really special, for sure,” Bowman told NASCAR.com. “Both of them have had so much to do with my career. Obviously, I wouldn’t be driving for Hendrick Motorsports at all without Dale’s help, and since then, Jimmie’s been a huge part of it.
“It’s tough to take over from the most popular of all time, and then three years later to follow that up with arguably the greatest of all time. But it means a lot to me that everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has faith in me, and Ally has faith in me to do a good job and make the 48 car proud.”
The Hendrick organization also announced crew chief Greg Ives will make the move with Bowman to the No. 48 team next season, keeping their pairing intact for a fourth consecutive year. Hendrick officials indicated plans for Bowman’s replacement with the No. 88 team, plus the future for Cliff Daniels — Johnson’s current crew chief with the No. 48 — would be announced at a later date.
Johnson, 45, announced last November that the 2020 season would mark his final full-time campaign in NASCAR’s top series. He hedged at calling his transition a full-fledged retirement, saying he still had a list of goals to experience — both in NASCAR and other forms of motorsports.
But Johnson’s move created a high-profile vacancy in the Cup Series garage in what’s been one of the most active free-agency seasons to date. Tuesday, the organization revealed the position would be filled internally by Bowman, ending nearly a year of rumors and conjecture.
“I think the world’s been eagerly awaiting, and obviously a big day for all of us,” Johnson said. “Very happy for Alex, very proud of Alex. When I look at his journey to climb the ladder and to get to where he is today, that guy has had to work his guts out for his opportunity, time and time again. Every time he’s had the opportunity, he’s made the most of it and has earned that next ride. Really proud of him. He’s going to be a great replacement in the 48 car. Then also to have Greg Ives coming over, it’s really special for Greg, too, with the history that he has on the 48 car.”
Bowman is set to become just the second full-time driver to wheel the No. 48 under the Hendrick Motorsports banner, just as he was only the second driver to make a full-time campaign with Hendrick’s No. 88, a number the organization first fielded with Earnhardt’s arrival in 2008.
The magnitude of inheriting rides, car numbers and in some ways the team legacies from two future NASCAR Hall of Famers has not been lost on Bowman, who says he’s merely strived to carve out his own place in the sport — all while being mindful of the legacies left by the drivers who came before him.
“I’m not Dale by any means, and never wanted to be or tried to be. I just tried to be myself,” Bowman said. “So hopefully some of the 88 fans that stuck around will go with us to the 48, and the 48 fans and Jimmie fans will cheer for us. My biggest thing is, I just want to give everybody something to cheer for on the race track and do the best job I can trying to win races. I think that’s the most important thing for me, and that’s what I want to do — make the fans happy.
“So it is bittersweet to leave the 88. It’s been a big part of my career, obviously. Got it a couple wins and some more opportunities to win some races coming up, but to have kind of started in a fill-in role in that car and then transition to driving it full-time, the number definitely means a lot to me, but also is an honor to drive the 48 car.”
The transition also will take an adjustment for Johnson, who has accumulated all 681 starts and 83 wins while driving the No. 48 since his Cup Series debut in 2001.
“It’s going to be different to see the car on track,” Johnson says. “I’ve been at one place my entire career and was there to start this 48 car and help create its history, so I’ll have great pride in watching it week in and week out. I’m sure the first few races that I see the car on track will be slightly uncomfortable and a lot of emotions will come with it, but I’m the biggest fan of that 48 car and want nothing but the best for it.”
Bowman’s story has already been an intriguing one. After toiling for two seasons in underpowered equipment (for BK Racing in 2014, then Tommy Baldwin Racing the next year), his Cup Series career was placed on hold. Bowman scraped together a part-time ride with Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team in 2016, but the year also brought him back to the Cup level under difficult circumstances as a 10-race fill-in while Earnhardt was sidelined with a concussion.
Bowman’s return yielded his first career pole position, but also earned the trust of Hendrick, who kept him on as a key figure in the organization’s simulator program. With some assistance from Earnhardt’s vote of confidence, HMS hired Bowman full time for the No. 88 in 2018 — a partnership that has produced two wins and playoff appearances in three consecutive seasons.
That performance, plus a strong bond with Hendrick through their shared love of cars, helped make Bowman’s most recent career move an easier one.
“We have tremendous faith in this team,” said Rick Hendrick. “Every season, Alex gets better. Not only do we see it in the statistics, but his confidence and leadership have truly blossomed. Today he’s a proven winner and playoff contender, and his best years are ahead. Greg has won championships and races, and he brings the No. 48 pedigree that’s invaluable. When you add in the amazing enthusiasm and support from Ally, it’s quite a combination. Their partnership makes it all possible, and we look forward to celebrating many successes together in the future.”
“Being able to share that with Mr. H has been really cool,” Bowman said of their mutual passion for cars, “and the conversation was pretty cut and dried and simple, like, ‘hey, this is what’s going on, we’re all excited for you, we all have faith in you,’ and that means a lot coming from Mr. H to pick me to do that. It was an easy conversation and it was just, what can we do to make it a seamless transition and give you everything you need to succeed. That’s the best part about HMS — they’re always willing to do whatever it takes and give you all the tools you need to succeed.”
That apparently goes for Johnson as well. Bowman’s predecessor has indicated that he’ll give IndyCar racing a try on a part-time basis next year, but Johnson also said this week that he intends to remain close with the No. 48 camp to lend a hand where needed as he enters semi-retirement.
“I’m here for Hendrick Motorsports and for Alex and anything that 48 car needs,” Johnson said. “I spent my entire career in the company, in that race car, and I want nothing but the best for them. As I look at things differently in my racing career and scale things down a bit, I’m still going to be here. Anything those guys need from me, I’m around and would be glad to help.”
Bowman’s shift to the No. 48 team qualifies as major news, but his return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2021 has been a settled deal for months. The Arizona native announced May 16 that he had signed a one-year contract extension with the organization.
His primary sponsor’s footing is also secure as Ally Financial agreed to a three-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports in October 2019, keeping the banking brand on as a full-season backer through the 2023 season. Bowman says he’s gotten a head-start on building relationships with Ally’s people, participating in a preliminary photo shoot and Zoom meetings to get better acquainted with their marketing style.
“Alex is absolutely the right driver to carry on the legacy of the No. 48 – and he deserves a sponsor as committed as he is,” said Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer for Ally. “He’s young, hungry to win and ready to give it all he has. We’re eager to make the most of his energy and dedication to build more momentum for racing, find new ways to disrupt the sport and help broaden NASCAR’s reach even further.”
Said Bowman: “It’s been really refreshing to get to work with them and learn about everybody at the company and kind of learn what they’re all about. Obviously, I’m new to the team and still learning, but it’s been really cool. They definitely like to be disruptive and like to do it right, and that’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to working with them.”