Greg Ives: No. 88 team has head start on working with Alex Bowman

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Crew chief Greg Ives will have a new driver to work with full-time next year after two and half years with Dale Earnhardt Jr. helming the No. 88 Chevrolet

Luckily, it will be one of the drivers who replaced Earnhardt during the final 18 races of 2016.

Appearing Thursday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Ives discussed Bowman’s appointment to the No. 88 next year. Ives said the 10 races he and Bowman worked together jump-started their relationship together.

During that stint, Bowman earned three top-10 finishes and a pole at Phoenix. The pole led to them being paired again in the Advance Auto Parts Clash in February, where Bowman finished third.

“Everybody’s really excited to have Alex in the car,” Ives said. “It’s one of those things, that precursor last year really helped out a lot. Alex had some different roads and different trials as he came up throughout his career. He took advantage of that opportunity, which wasn’t easy, to go from where he was in 2016 and then all of a sudden one morning get a call saying he was driving the 88 for Dale as a replacement driver. That had to be very taxing mentally, blowing him away a little bit. And he went out there and he performed and he did a great job. From that standpoint people were impressed, especially these guys that are working on the race car.”

MORE: JR Nation reactions to Alex Bowman succeeding Earnhardt

Ives said the Bowman news made the No. 88 shop at Hendrick Motorsports “genuinely happy” and “surprised maybe” that it came this early in the season, with 17 races left in the campaign.

“You saw a lot of smiles from the fact they genuinely care about what Alex has done for us and also feel like they’re giving back to him a little bit and know he’s going to do a great job,” Ives said.

Next season will be Bowman’s first full-time season in any NASCAR series since 2015 when he drove for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the Cup Series. In two full-time Cup seasons, Bowman’s best finish in the standings was 33rd in 2015.

MORE: Jeff Gordon approves of Alex Bowman driving the No. 88.

He was released from TBR in the lead up to the start of the 2016 season. In addition to his substitution role for Hendrick, Bowman’s time in the last year has been devoted driving the Chevrolet simulator and Chevrolet’s car at NASCAR-allowed tests.

Ives, who has three wins as a Cup crew chief and won the 2014 Xfinity title with Chase Elliott, said Bowman will continue in that support role this year as he prepares to take over the No. 88.

“It’s not going to be so unfamiliar when it comes to 2018,” Ives said. “You’ll probably see more of him around the shop and around the race track, but to be honest with you he has another job. He’s been doing a great job in the simulator and going to the wheel force tests for us. We gotta to keep him busy, keep him active over there, that way he keeps really learning for us.

“If we have him just sitting around the race track observing, that’s also not doing us any good.”

MORE: Nationwide, Axalta returning to the No. 88 in 2018

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Hendrick Motorsports faces challenge with multiple sponsor deals ending after 2018 season

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Plenty of time remains, but Hendrick Motorsports faces a pivotal year with several primary sponsorship deals ending after the 2018 season.

Thursday’s announcement that Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 next year after Dale Earnhardt Jr. steps away also included the nugget that Nationwide will extend its deal one year through the 2018 season.

That means that Hendrick Motorsports will have the following major primary sponsorships ending after next season: Lowe’s (Jimmie Johnson), Nationwide (Alex Bowman), Axalta (Bowman) and NAPA (Chase Elliott).

Those companies serve as a primary sponsor for a combined 94 points races next season:

Lowe’s will do 36 races, sharing some with vendors, on Johnson’s car.

NAPA will do 24 races on Elliott’s car.

Nationwide will do 19 races on Bowman’s car.

Axalta will increase its total by two to 15 on Bowman’s car next season.

And there’s more.

SunEnergy1’s deal of four races a year on Elliott’s car expires after the 2018 season.

Mountain Dew’s deal expires after the 2018 season and includes sponsorship of the cars of Earnhardt/Bowman, Kasey Kahne and Elliott, representing eight races total.

Rarely does an organization have so many significant sponsor deals end at the same time.

And there’s the fact that Hendrick Motorsports has yet to announce replacements on Kasey Kahne’s car with Farmer’s Bank Insurance not returning when its deal expires after this season, and Great Clips ending its agreement after this year. Those companies are scheduled to serve as the primary sponsor for 22 races this year.

Despite the challenges Hendrick Motorsports seems to be facing, it helps that the organization has done well in retaining sponsors — Axalta has been with the company since 1992 and Lowe’s since 2001 — but there are no guarantees. Lowe’s extension did not match the three-year extension Johnson signed. In 2015, both Johnson and Lowe’s signed two-year extensions. Before that deal, Johnson signed a five-year extension and Lowe’s signed a three-year deal, following with a two-year extension to later match Johnson’s contract length.

Nationwide and NAPA don’t have as long a history with Hendrick Motorsports as Axalta and Lowe’s.

Nationwide sponsored what is now the Xfinity Series from 2008-14 before becoming the primary sponsor of Earnhardt’s No. 88 car in 2015.

NAPA, which severed ties with Michael Waltrip Racing for its involvement in a team order scandal at Richmond in 2013, partnered with Elliott in 2014 when he was at JR Motorsports and followed him to Cup at Hendrick Motorsports.

With 16 months before the 2018 season ends, there’s plenty of time for Hendrick Motorsports to extend deals with each company or find others. Still, there is much work ahead. The pressure will be on to get those deals done in a timely manner.

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Jeff Gordon: Alex Bowman ‘proved himself last year’ when substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Jeff Gordon believes Alex Bowman more than “proved himself last year” when he substituted for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 10 races as Earnhardt recovered from a concussion.

Gordon, an equity owner Hendrick Motorsports and an analyst for Fox Sports, voiced his approval of the selection of Bowman to succeed Earnhardt in the No. 88 Chevrolet next season while appearing on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Gordon and Bowman combined to drive the final 18 races of 2016 while Earnhardt recovered.

“I was certainly somewhat involved in those discussion, but I think Alex proved himself last year when he got in the car,” Gordon said. “It was tough for me to jump in there and fill those shoes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and all the hype and media around that. So for a young man like Alex to get in there and do the job and then all the work he’s done in the simulator, he’s paid his dues.”

MORE: JR Nation reacts to Alex Bowman taking over the No. 88.

In his 10 starts last year, Bowman earned three top 10s, including a career-best finish of sixth at Phoenix after he started from the pole and led 194 laps.

The pole earned him a spot in the Advance Auto Parts Clash in February, where he finished third.

“He’s worked hard, he and his family have sacrificed a lot to get to where he is today,” Gordon said. “If you look at his driving background, it’s impressive. I think what he did last year was amazing. Really the fans and the sponsors and Dale Jr. and the whole team, they’ve all spoken because of the job that he did and the way he handled himself in the car last year.

“I don’t think there’s any surprise that he’s getting this opportunity.”

MORE: Nationwide, Axalta returning to sponsor No. 88 with Alex Bowman

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Social Roundup: JR Nation reacts to Alex Bowman taking over the No. 88

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It’s official. Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet in 2018.

Now that the news is out, it’s time for the Internet to react.

This is one of the few times where we’ll encourage you to read the comments.

Below, after Hendrick’s tweet announcing Bowman’s appointment to the No. 88 and Bowman’s reaction, are reactions from social media.

Brace yourself.

 

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Nationwide returning to No. 88 car, Axalta adding more races with hiring of Alex Bowman

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Nationwide will return as a sponsor of the No. 88 car next year with Alex Bowman taking over the ride for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday.

The team also announced that Axalta will sponsor the car in 15 races, an increase of two from this season. Axalta’s contract goes through the 2018 season. Axalta has been with Hendrick Motorsports since 1992 and a sponsor of the No. 88 car since 2016.

“Our relationship with Nationwide is unbelievable,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “They have a true passion for NASCAR and our fans, and to have them extend with us is gratifying for our whole team. It’s also a credit to the way Alex carried himself last season and built lasting relationships. We’re fortunate to work with partners like Nationwide and Axalta that have built impactful, enduring programs around the countless opportunities our sport provides.”

Nationwide’s contract was to have expired after this season. The company is serving as the primary sponsor for Earnhardt in 21 races this season.

Nationwide joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2014 as a corporate partner and became a majority sponsor of the No. 88 Chevrolet and Earnhardt in 2015.

“We are thrilled to continue our relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and welcome Alex to the No. 88 Nationwide team,” said Terrance Williams, chief marketing officer at Nationwide, in a release from Hendrick Motorsports. “Rick Hendrick and the No. 88 team have been exceptional partners for the last three years, and we look forward to our joint commitment and engagement with the NASCAR community, both on and off the track.”

Hendrick Motorsports announced in January 2016 that Mountain Dew would serve as a primary sponsor of Earnhardt’s car for three races through 2018 while also serving as a primary sponsor for Chase Elliott’s car in two races annually and Kasey Kahne’s car for one race per year.

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