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Jimmie Johnson: Alex Bowman would be ‘a great fit’ for No. 88; says sponsors will dictate driver

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LOUDON, N.H. – Jimmie Johnson doesn’t know who will drive the No. 88 Chevrolet next season for Hendrick Motorsports, and he believes sponsors ultimately will determine who will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But the seven-time series champion will have a say with team owner Rick Hendrick, and Johnson clearly thinks Alex Bowman would be ready after substituting for Earnhardt last year.

“We put a lot on him now,” Johnson said Friday of Bowman before practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I think he’d be a great fit to come in that car from a wide variety of angles.”

It was almost a year ago at New Hampshire that Bowman made the first of 10 starts in the No. 88, earning three top 10s after one top 15 (a 13th) in his previous 71 Cup starts with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing.

“When I look at how he stepped in seamlessly, it was really impressive for me,” Johnson said. “He handled the pressure, won a pole (at Phoenix), was up there duking it out for race wins, had a heated moment or two with some of the veterans and wasn’t rattled.

“We all watched him evolve. You drive for a lower level team and unfortunately, people’s opinion about you can change. That cloud or stigma was there for a while, and he had a chance to reset the deck when he drove the 88. I think he’s plenty capable. He’s been a great teammate. He knows our system.”

Johnson said it’s been a few weeks since he’s talked to Hendrick about the four-car team’s future, and the candidate pool expanded this past week with Matt Kenseth officially out at Joe Gibbs Racing after 2017.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about what to do,” Johnson said. “Certainly Matt’s availability will have to be considered. I haven’t been in conversations with Rick in the last three to four weeks about where that’s going, but sponsorship is really going to dictate who goes in that car.

“We have some great options to look at. Look at what Alex Bowman did for us when he was subbing for Dale. William (Byron) is certainly an option, he’s definitely young but he’s doing an amazing job. … I’ve been trying to understand the sponsor climate and who, what and how big of a program they want. Who the driver of choice is has been developing, but I haven’t been asked yet.”

Byron, 19, would be another option for Hendrick, which signed him last August. He is ranked second in the Xfinity Series with two wins in his first season with JR Motorsports after a series-high seven victories in the Camping World Truck Series last year.

“Watching him race with (race winner) Denny (Hamlin) at Michigan was ultra-impressive,” Johnson said. “It’s fun watching him grow. At his age, I just don’t want to be in too big of a hurry … I feel so lucky I didn’t get my Cup start until I was 25. I was wondering if my start was ever going to happen, but I was just in a better place than the position some of these young guys are put. They’re super-talented; it’s just a lot of pressure to put on these guys.”

Bowman hasn’t raced since a 16th in last season’s finale at Miami, but the 24-year-old has shouldered quite a load at Hendrick by spearheading its time on GM Racing’s driving simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina. Bowman also has tested a wheelforce transducer car at tracks such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway, delivering critical real-world data.

“We are counting on him so much,” Johnson said. “The start of our data originates with him. The simulator is our only test bed in a sense. The wheelforce transducer is one of the only opportunities to collect data, and he’s the guy behind the wheel trying to drive the lines, the sensations and set the car up to optimize performance.

“He has more input from that inception point now than any driver at Hendrick from his simulator time and wheelforce car.”

As the dean of the team’s driving corps, Johnson also has much input on the organization, which has reevaluated its makeup.

“We’ve looked at a lot of different ways to be more efficient internally in Hendrick Motorsports and to operate on a leaner budget but still have the performance,” Johnson said. “I know there’s a lot from internal structure and how the buildings function and operate that’s been on the table.”

Hendrick recently has deflected questions about the No. 88, saying there is no timetable to name a replacement.

Earnhardt also has endorsed Bowman as his successor.

Saturday schedule for Xfinity, Truck Series

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The Xfinity Series competes at Road America today while the Gander Outdoors Truck Series begins its weekend in Canada.

wunderground.com forecasts sunny skies and a high of 70 degrees at the start of the Xfinity race.

The forecast for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is for sunny skies, a high of 71 degrees and a 10% chance of rain.

Here’s the day’s full schedule with TV and radio info.

Saturday, Aug. 24

Road America

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

11:40 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying; multi-car/two rounds (NBC Sports App live, NBCSN to air it at 1:30 p.m.)

1:35 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

2:30 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – CTECH Manufacturing 180; 45 laps/182.16 miles (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

7 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

9:35 – 10:25 a.m. ET – Truck practice (No TV)

11:35 – 12:55 p.m. – Final Truck practice (No TV)

Report: Justin Allgaier returning to JR Motorsports in 2020

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Justin Allgaier confirmed to Catchfence.com Friday that he will remain with JR Motorsports in 2020.

It will be Allgaier’s fifth season in the Xfinity Series with JRM.

“I will be back next year. Same deal,” Allgaier told Catchfence.com “Everything is good. We’re doing the same thing next that we are doing right now.”

Allgaier, 33, is fourth is the point standings entering this weekend’s race at Road America (3 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN).

Allgaier is the only driver in the top six in points without a win this year.

 

Xfinity Series practice report from Road America

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Christopher Bell was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice Friday at Road America.

Bell posted a top speed of 108.562 mph around the road course.

The top five was completed by Matt DiBenedetto (108.106 mph), AJ Allmendinger (108.091), Justin Haley (107.927) and Cole Custer (107.895).

Chase Briscoe recorded the most laps in the session with 19.

The session was stopped with about 50 minutes left for a hard crash by Brandon Jones exiting Turn 11. Jones will go to a backup car for Saturday’s race.

Just before Jones’ wreck, the left-rear truck arm mount broke on Jeremy Clements‘ No. 51 Chevrolet and his car stalled on the track.

The red flag was brought out for the second time when Preston Pardus’ No. 43 Chevrolet stalled on the track. His car then stalled a second time in the final minute of the session.

The session had a third red flag when Josh Williams‘ car stalled on the track.

Click here for the practice report.

First Practice

Bell was fastest, posting a top speed of 108.559 mph around the road course.

The top five was completed by defending race winner Justin Allgaier (108.530 mph), Cindric (108.346), DiBenedetto (108.139) and Allmendinger (107.967).

Chase Briscoe recorded the most laps with 14.

The session was stopped once for debris with 35 minutes left in the session.

Minor incidents in the session included Noah Gragson briefly going off course and a spin by Dexter Bean.

Click here for the practice report.

Updated entry lists for Xfinity, Truck Series this weekend

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While the NASCAR Cup Series will be off this weekend, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any racing.

On the contrary, the Xfinity Series will be racing Saturday at Road America and the Truck Series will compete Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Here are the entry lists for both series:

Xfinity – CTECH Manufacturing 180 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 38 cars entered.

Regan Smith will be in the No. 8 J.R. Motorsports Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger will drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Saturday’s Cup runner-up, Matt DiBenedetto, will drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Ryan Vargas is entered in JD Motorsports’ No. 4 Chevrolet for his second start of the year.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Chevrolet Silverado 250 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1)

There are only 29 Trucks listed for the entry list. A full field would be 32 trucks.

Alex Tagliani is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota for his first start of the year.

Dylan Lupton is entered in Young’s Motorsports’ No. 20 Chevrolet.

Click here for the entry list.

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