Mar 1, 2020; Fontana, California, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman (88) is congratulated by Jimmie Johnson after winning the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Bowman was a very busy man last week. It was revealed that after spending three full seasons racing in the #88 for Rick Hendrick, Bowman would remain with the organization, but move over to the #48 as Jimmie Johnson retires from full-time NASCAR competition. For Bowman, he once took over for one legend in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Now, he takes over for another legend in Jimmie Johnson.

At the same time, Bowman was facing a tough test on the track, a Sunday drive in the rain on Charlotte’s Roval. Up 22 points before the race, Bowman was seventh. But with guys like Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, and Clint Bowyer behind him all capable of winning on the road course and moving him into elimination, it was far from definite Bowman could advance. The Roval is always unpredictable, and having a wet track was no exception. In the end, Bowman stayed out of trouble, finished eighth, and advanced to the Round of 8 for the first time in his career.

Now, Bowman sees an opening to the Championship 4. Sure, everyone is focusing on Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski, but a round of Kansas, Texas, and Martinsville is great for someone like Bowman. And if he can play spoiler and win one of those races, Bowman suddenly has a chance to win a championship at his home track of Phoenix. Bowman’s career has been all about stepping in for legends; could 2020 be the year that he creates his own legacy?

Alex talked to The Comeback last week before the Roval race to discuss his move to the #48, racing on the Roval, and his hopes to advance through the playoffs.

Phillip Bupp: So moving to the #48, what’s the past few days been like for you?

Alex Bowman: Yeah, it’s been a hectic few days. This was going to be a hectic week, regardless with being a playoff cutoff week and being on the bubble. But on top of that, we had some big news, so I’m excited. Obviously getting to know everybody from Ally has been a lot of fun, and it’s been a busy week for sure. But kind of shifting focus now to just go on and doing my job this week at the Roval.

PB: Were you okay with the news breaking this week with the Roval and the cutoff race?

Bowman: Yeah. I think honestly it was a nice distraction to not have to constantly think about the Roval and be stressed out the entire time. Being able to focus on something else was nice, and hopefully that benefits us going into this weekend. I feel as prepared as ever, just maybe not as much stress as normal.

PB: Nice. Now, obviously you took over the #88 from Dale Jr. Now you’re taking over for the seven-time champ. How is that, to have another legend essentially give his endorsement that you can be successful in their car?

Bowman: Yeah, obviously it’s a little bit different of a situation, but I think it means a lot to me that Jimmie and Dale both had faith in me to take over their cars. Obviously getting the 88 back in victory lane was really special. And for Mr. H to have faith in me to throw that at me, it’s really cool. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun. Working with Ally is going to be a lot of fun. But it’s two really special race cars. You have the most popular driver of all-time and probably the greatest of all-time. So to follow them up is definitely really cool.

PB: Does that add more pressure for you that you took over the 88 and now you’re taking over the 48?

Bowman: No, essentially it’s a number and partner change. It’s the same race team. I’m working with the same people. We want to win just as bad, no matter what the door number is. So, I think obviously, you want to carry on the legacy of the 48 and add to the great stats that it has and that Jimmie racked up, but we want to win just as bad right now in the 88 car. So I’d say the pressure’s the same, but definitely want to add to that legacy.

PB: That leads to my next thing. Greg Ives and Kevin Hamlin are following you. It’s still Hendrick Motorsports. Two of your teammates are going to be the same. Same crew chief, same spotter. How important is that to have the transition not be as extreme as say going to a different organization?

Bowman: Yeah, I don’t really foresee there being much of a transition at all. Aside from, I’ll probably accidentally call it the 88 a couple of times [laughter], but yeah, it’s really good to keep that consistency. I feel like all of us on the 88 team have a great relationship and are doing a great job working together. The group of guys on the team are fantastic. We had some new faces this year and they’ve all been working together so well. So to keep that group together, to keep Greg leading it, I think it’s really important for us to continue to grow together. And I think everybody’s been doing a great job, so it makes a lot of sense to keep it together.

PB: Now that you’re going to the 48, that leaves the 88 open. There are a bunch of great drivers out there looking for a ride. I know there’s a lot of things that go into consideration in choosing a driver, but would you like to have a say in who gets that ride since they’ll be your teammate?

Bowman: I think in a perfect world, yes it would be nice, but unfortunately that’s not really how the sport works. Just everything else that goes into it I think, between Mr. Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, and everybody else at the company. I feel like there are a lot of people that have a much bigger say in it, well before me. So, I think what they think probably matters quite a bit more. And I have a lot of faith in them to pick the best person possible, and I’m sure whoever gets in that car will be really good.

PB: Care to reveal who you personally would like to see in the car?

Bowman: Yeah, I don’t know [laughter]. I don’t have an answer for you there. I’m excited to find out who it’ll be though. Honestly, I don’t have a clue. We all have Twitter and have the rumors and all that, but nobody’s said anything to me. So, I don’t have a clue there.

PB: Fair enough. I wanted to talk a little about your journey to get here. I always say your story is something that people should appreciate. Racing for underfunded teams at the start, and maybe unfairly being seen by many fans as someone who might not be good enough. But for you like many others are trying hard, are doing your best, and your hard work paid off to now get to race with Hendrick. Were there some low moments for you back when you were racing for underfunded teams or racing part-time before the Hendrick offer?

Bowman: Yeah, absolutely. As a race car driver, when you grow up and you’re successful in everything you sit in and you win races pretty much off the bat in everything that you race, and then it becomes more about money than what you can bring to the table. So you end up driving for lower budget teams and trying to do more with less. Looking back, I’m appreciative of everybody who ever put me in a race car and everybody that ever gave me an opportunity, because all those opportunities led to where I’m at now. But back then, it sure wasn’t much fun [laughter].

It’s hard to complain about making a living driving a race car, but when you’re driving a race car that your job is pretty much to stay out of the way and try to nurse it to the best 30th place finish you can, it’s not fun. And there were times that were definitely low spots. And you think about doing something else just because you get beat up pretty bad back there, whether it’s from people having higher expectations than are realistic, or if you get in some fan’s favorite driver’s way, while you’re just trying to do all you can and stay out of the way, people can be pretty brutal. So it definitely wasn’t fun, but I’m definitely appreciative of it and think it makes me appreciate where I’m at now much more.

PB: Well, and being in the sport, everyone gets in it to want to win and be the best. In racing, there are a lot of other outside factors that maybe prevent that. Like you said, money is a big part of it.

Bowman: Yeah, that’s just how the sport has gone. It’s so expensive to run a race car. If you can bring a big sponsor, it’s much easier to get a ride. So that’s just part of it though. And I feel like that’s probably not going to change anytime soon. So, it becomes more about marketing, and you still got to show up and drive the race car. But it is tough and frustrating at times, for sure.

PB: Now, I know race finishes are a major part of measuring how good a driver is and such, but that could be misleading based on the team or car they race. What are some things fans could look for in a driver of say an underfunded team, to maybe give them a clearer view of how talented that driver might be, instead of just seeing where they finished?

Bowman: Yeah, that’s tough. Every situation’s so different. But I think, just honestly the ability to finish races. Mechanical failures are one thing, but if those guys are crashing every week, that’s definitely… I felt like that was an indication of if I was doing a good or a bad job. Obviously those race cars are probably a little tougher to drive than what I get to drive. Mine probably drives a little better, but if you’re going out there and you’re just cruising around in 30th and you stick it in the fence, it’s probably not a great indication of having a great day. So it is tough though to look at. You don’t know what the equipment is, you don’t know what’s going on or how it’s doing. So when the race car is such a big part of what you’re doing, it’s just hard to really determine who’s good and who’s not good in that situation.

PB: All right. We’ll get you out of here on this. This is going to post after the Roval so hopefully this question and answer ages well. But you’re up 22 points entering the Roval weekend and anything can happen on the Roval, but is the Roval the toughest test for you at this moment? And if you can advance, do you see an opening to make the Championship 4?

Bowman: So I think Richmond was probably going to be our toughest test of the entire playoffs. And we went there and had a pretty solid day and ended up with a top 10 at a track that I think last year we finished 26th (actual finish was 23rd) at. So, we improved our short track program a ton and I’m really proud of that. The Roval, while it’s been rough days for us, we’ve finished well the last two years and our road course cars are pretty phenomenal. So I think, if we just go have a good solid day and execute and do our job, I think we can definitely transfer.

Obviously there’s four guys, five guys behind me that can all go and win. So we got to go have a good day and try to get as many points as we can and try to beat them. But I think there are definitely opportunities for us to win in the next round and make the final four. Kansas is a great place for us. Texas, we’ve been good at it in the past. Martinsville, maybe we’ll go back and be really strong there, but we’ll just have to wait and see. But those first two are really good for us.

About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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