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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Bowman: “They Knew We Were Here.”

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LOUDON, N.H. — Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet was without its usual driver at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, but the team still looked impressive despite a 26th-place result.

Part-time JR Motorsports racer Alex Bowman filled in for fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the New Hampshire 301, who sat out with concussion-like symptoms. Knowing he would only have Sunday’s race to show what he could do, the substituting 23-year-old ran in the top 10 for a significant portion of the race after qualifying 20th.

While running near the front with less than 30 laps remaining, Bowman had a tire rub and hit the wall going into Turn 1, while HMS teammate Chase Elliott had an unrelated tire problem of his own and wrecked, too. Both drivers wound up outside the top 25.

Bowman’s issue was caused by a pit road incident with Carl Edwards as the No. 88 was pulling out of his stall.

“The 19 [Edwards] was backing up as I was going forward leaving pit road, and he caught us on the left rear and the tire started going down,” Bowman told POPULAR SPEED. “ It’s really unfortunate — the worst we would have finished was about seventh or eighth. I hate the circumstances obviously, and I hope Dale Jr. is feeling better, but we had a top-10 car all day long.”

Although this was Bowman’s first Sprint Cup Series race of 2016, he has been impressive in the XFINITY Series. In five starts in the JRM No. 88, he has five top 10s and a pole, which came at Michigan International Speedway last month.

The Tucson, Ariz. native ran full-time in the Cup Series the last two years, but for the smaller, less-funded BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing teams. Bowman’s best career Cup finish is 13th, which came at Daytona International Speedway in July 2014 for BKR, and feels he impressed people following Sunday’s event.

“This was really my first experience of running in the top-10 all day,” Bowman said. “and [NHMS] has never been at the top of my performance list. We didn’t get the finish we should have but it felt good to be in the mix and running with championship drivers. They knew we were here.”

Piloting the No. 88 was a one-time deal for Bowman. He was announced by HMS as Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement on Thursday only for New Hampshire, and there are no further plans for Bowman to race in the Cup Series in 2016.

If Earnhardt Jr. is unable to compete in the next Cup race at Indianapolis, retired NASCAR icon and former HMS driver Jeff Gordon has been named the No. 88 driver for the track which he has five career victories.



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John Haverlin

John Haverlin is currently studying Communication at Arizona State University. He has been a reporter at Phoenix International Raceway for three years and has written news stories for the track's official site. Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Haverlin has lived in Arizona the past three years.