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.”
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.
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.”