CHARLOTTE, NC – Alex Bowman spent a year at Hendrick Motorsports subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and generally helping out and waiting. When Earnhardt decided to retire at the end of last season, Bowman was pegged to replace him in the No. 88 Chevrolet CamaroZL1. He met with the media at the Charlotte Convention Center during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour and answered a gaggle of questions.
ARE YOU FEELING ANY PRESSURE?
“Not really. I have a pretty strong desire to go win races and I’m really hungry for wins. I think that really matters more to me than any pressure anybody is going to put on me.”
WHAT ABOUT THE COMPARISONS TO DALE, JR.? DID YOU GET OVER THAT A LONG TIME AGO WHEN YOU SUBBED FOR HIM?
“Yeah, I just try to go have fun and enjoy every situation and every opportunity I am given, the most I can. I’m just going to enjoy it, have the most fun I can and not really let any of that get to me.”
DO YOU THINK MAYBE BEING MORE REFRESHED THAN SOME OF THESE OTHER DRIVERS WILL BE AN ADVANTAGE?
“Yeah, I think so. Obviously, I know how long this crazy long schedule is. I didn’t have too bad of a schedule last year. Probably worked a lot during the week more than some of the other guys in the (Chevrolet) simulator and everything, but had a lot of weekend’s off and really enjoyed myself. So, I guess I’m probably a little fresher, but it’s been a good offseason, so I think that helps as well.”
WOULD YOU CALL THIS THE PAY OFF FINALLY FOR ALL THE PATIENCE AND ALL THE PERSISTENCE THAT YOU HAD JUST WAITING FOR THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITY TO COME ALONG?
“Yeah, I think so. I’m glad that it all worked out this way. I could have easily gone a different direction. Very thankful for how things have gone. Hopefully, we will see a big payoff with race wins and contending for a championship.”
WAS THE XFINITY WIN AT CHARLOTTE LAST YEAR A PRECURSOR IN YOUR MIND OF WHAT’S TO COME? HOW GOOD DID IT FEEL TO JUMP RIGHT BACK IN THE CAR AND GET A VICTORY?
“Yeah, absolutely. There were a lot of questions in my mind of whether I would be fast off the bat or ready to get back in a car and all that. So, very encouraging to be out of a car for seven months and then right off the bat get a win. I think it just proves that I can come out of the box strong and gave me a lot of confidence this offseason.”
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT HOW THE OLDER MORE ESTABLISHED DRIVERS ARE FADING OUT AND THERE IS A NEW WAVE OF YOUNG GUYS COMING IN. DO YOU VIEW THIS AS ONE OF THOSE YOUNG GUYS IN A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO GRAB NOT ONLY YOUR SPOT IN THE SPORT BUT WITH FANS AND STUFF LIKE THAT?
“Yeah, absolutely, there are a lot of fans looking for a new guy and hopefully I can be a guy that people want to cheer for. Obviously, the No. 88 has a larger following and I’m going to do my best to keep JR Nation happy and keep that No. 88 car up front. That is what they hired me to do. I’m a regular, down to earth guy and I feel like I’m pretty relatable to a lot of the average NASCAR fans. I work on a lot of street car and race car stuff myself. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and I’m very appreciative of this opportunity. So, hopefully, they can kind of relate to me and become fans.”
DID YOU PLAY ANY ROLE IN INTERACTING AND KEEPING SOME OF THOSE FANS? DID HE OFFER ANY ADVICE?
“I hope so. He has been really helpful and really influential so obviously what he says carries a lot of weight with his fan base. Hopefully, we can make him proud and make all of them proud as well.”
DO YOU SEE SOME PARALLELS BETWEEN YOU AND DALE, JR?
“It’s hard for me to look at, not that Dale, Jr. is not down to earth, but it’s hard for me to look at him and relate to him as far as his status. I mean he is so popular everywhere he goes, he is followed by a huge crowd of people and everybody wants to talk to him, wants an autograph, wants a picture, he is so popular. I can’t really look at myself and see that in any way. I’m so thankful to hopefully get some of those fans and have some of that carry over. But, as far as a person he is very down to earth and very regular. I think there is a big parallel there.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON TOLD US THAT BASED ON SIMULATION THAT YOU ARE POSSIBLY GOING TO GO 15-20 MPH FASTER AT DAYTONA. IS THAT THE CASE? ARE YOU EXCITED TO HAVE THAT SPEED IN THE CAMARO?
“Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know until we get down there really what it is going to do. It didn’t in the test. We didn’t go any faster at all in the test. I got to be a part of that test and to drive the race cars and I thought that honestly taking the ride height rules away made them a little harder to drive, especially on corner entry and corner exit. So, I think we’ve got to get some handling back in the race cars for sure. Those speedways as they’ve gotten worn out have gotten harder. I think handling is going to be a little more important than you have seen in year’s past. As far as the speeds go, we will see when we get down there.”
YOU ARE FROM TUCSON, ARIZONA, NOT EXACTLY A HOT BED FOR NASCAR TALENT DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT IS KIND OF MIND BLOWING THAT YOU MADE IT TO THIS LEVEL?
“I mean everything happens for a reason, but I wouldn’t say it’s mind-blowing by any means. There is a lot of really talented race car drivers that have come from that area. Just because they didn’t make it to NASCAR, IndyCar guys and Sprint Car guys. I mean you have legends from Tucson. It’s a cool place to be from. There are a lot of really cool racing in that area and I’m glad to represent it in NASCAR.”
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DEVELOP A GOOD COMRADERY WITH JIMMIE (JOHNSON) AND CHASE (ELLIOTT) AND HOW MUCH HAVE YOU GOTTEN TO KNOW WILLIAM BYRON?
“Yeah, absolutely, everybody has been an open book and it’s been awesome to get to work with them. I’ve got to spend quite a bit of time with William actually, which has been really cool. He is a great guy. I think all of us bring different, unique things to the table that is going to make the entire organization better.”
WHEN CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE YOUR MIDGET BACK ON TRACK? ARE YOU GOING TO DO MORE THAN JUST CHILI BOWL?
“Well, I think if some of the rumored races end up happening at the end of November, probably see it back out. It will be two of them though it won’t just be one. We are working on the second car already. The car we had this year is already stripped and going to the chassis shop to get duplicated. I love that style of racing. I love getting my hands dirty. Chili Bowl was probably a little more stressful than I would have liked this year. I didn’t anticipate to show up and have everything that could go wrong, go wrong. But, worked really hard and worked more than I would have expected. But, the previous two years we haven’t had a single issue with the race car at all. So, to go there this year and have all those issues, hopefully, I will get another couple of years without any issues.”
WOULD RICK HENDRICK EVER CONSIDER LETTING YOU JUMP BACK IN ONE OF YOUR OWN CARS? OR IS IT GOING TO BE A SITUATION WHERE YOU HAVE TO FIND ANOTHER DRIVER?
“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m going to have to talk to him about it. Because I obviously have a large desire to drive those race cars. They are my favorite race cars in the world. They are cool. The races that I like to run with them are cool in particular. Whether it’s the Chili Bowl or the December Du Quoin show. Just having no rules and there is so much innovation that you can do and things that you can do different. Hopefully, I will get to drive one again. We will just kind of have to wait and see.”
IS THAT INNOVATION FACTOR IS THAT SOMETHING WHERE YOU LOOK AT NASCAR AND MAYBE WISH SOMETIMES MAYBE YOU COULD HAVE MORE OF THAT?
“I don’t know. I think it’s different when you innovate on a $30,000 race car than when you have a $35 million-dollar budget and you try to innovate, stuff gets a little crazy. The nice thing about the innovation on the midget stuff is aside from some of the titanium and carbon fiber parts, nothing is really crazy expensive. So, I think that is what makes it good because it doesn’t get unobtainable. You don’t have a big spread in race teams. You see small guys going out to Chili Bowl like you look at Travis Berryhill last year winning, that was pretty big for him. You have standard heavy race cars that have nothing special on them. Look at Jake Swanson running fifth there on Saturday last year, that is pretty cool. That car is heavy, old, it was built in like 2007. Mitch does a good job taking care of it, but there is nothing special about it. To see guys like that compete with guys that have a lot of time and trick pieces like Bondio and Chad Boat and some of the other guys that build just beautiful race cars, it’s cool to see the level playing field no matter what. It really doesn’t matter how much money you put into one of those cars it just comes down to how well they work.”
IS THERE ANY DIFFERENT WAY YOU PREPARE FOR THIS YEAR?
“Well, I think I am just able to lean on a lot of people with a lot more knowledge and I have a lot more resources at my disposal. Very thankful for that and I think I have more tools to use to be ready.”
WHO ARE SOME OF THE PEOPLE YOU HAVE FOUND YOURSELF LEANING ON THE MOST?
“There is this guy named Jimmie Johnson that has won seven championships. Yeah, I think I’m going to lean on him the most I can. So, very thankful to have him to lean on and looking forward to learning as much as I can from him.”
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS SEASON?
“Well, they hired me to go win races and contend for championships and that is what I plan on doing.”
WHAT WOULD BE SUFFICIENT TO MEET THOSE GOALS FOR THIS SEASON? DO YOU HAVE TO WIN A RACE IN 2018 FOR IT TO BE A SUCCESS?
“Personally, yeah, I want to win I have a huge drive to go win, so that is what I’m going to try to do. I think it’s more of a personal goal than anything. There is not a lot of pressure being put on me from any side. I just really want to win races.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE PHOENIX IS YOUR BEST OPPORTUNITY TO WIN THIS SEASON?
“Yeah, I mean I think we have a lot of unfinished business there at that place. I’ve been close to winning races there a few times. To dominate the Cup race in 2016 it’s a special place for me and hopefully, we will go finish the job this year.”
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE ANY KIND OF ADVANTAGE IN GETTING SOME OF DALE, JR.’S FANS TO GET BEHIND YOU?
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily an advantage or not, but hopefully, they stick around the No. 88 car. We are going to try our best to give them something to cheer for, for sure. But, very thankful for those that have stuck around.”
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO CONVINCE JUNIOR FANS TO SUPPORT YOU?
“I don’t know. I’m just a regular guy. It’s hard for me to really brag on myself I guess. I don’t really know what exactly to say to them. But, I’m very thankful for those that have stuck around and I know we are all going to try our best on the No. 88 team to keep that car up front.”
HAVE YOU SEEN JIMMIE (JOHNSON) COME INTO A BIGGER MENTORING ROLE WITH BEING THE ELDER STATESMAN?
“He is getting a little old, huh? (laughs) I think it’s been really cool to watch Jimmie work at being more of a leader and take over more of a leadership role for Hendrick Motorsports. He has always been a leader, but now it’s more of a clear-cut leadership. It’s been really cool to see and looking forward to leaning on him as much as I can.”
DO YOU GUYS GIVE HIM A HARD TIME AT ALL?
“We call him Grandpa every now and then.”
TO HIS FACE OR BEHIND HIS BACK?
“Well, I mean, sometimes to his face. That one time I sat in his (Chevy) Tahoe in the car seat in the back… so that was pretty funny. He drove me and (William) Bryon to lunch and we were sitting in the car seats in the back. So, that was a little bit comical.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU GUYS, AMONG THE ROOKIE DRIVERS THIS YEAR, YOU ARE ALL FRIENDS, HOW CLOSE ARE YOU?
“You know I don’t know. I’m close with William (Byron) and that’s about it. I know those rookie guys are chomping at the bit for rookie of the year. I’m glad I have 81 Cup starts to lean back on and to use to my advantage and use the knowledge that I gained from them to hopefully be better.”