Backed by Junior Nation, Alex Bowman sees opportunity at Talladega
RELATED: Ailing Bowman presses on, nabs career-best finish With Dale Earnhardt Jr . slated to miss his first Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway since he broke into the big leagues full time as a rookie in 2000, many wonder which driver will replace the superspeedway ace as the one to beat in Sunday's Hellmann's 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App). How about, you know, the guy actually replacing him? Fresh off a seventh-place showing at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, Alex Bowman is set to drive Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the third consecutive week and the seventh time this season as the driver recovers from concussion-related symptoms. This weekend is perhaps Bowman's most significant start of the year. Because it's at Earnhardt's own Talladega. RELATED: Earnhardt-Talladega streak to continue Sunday "He's got a couple fans out there," Bowman told NASCAR.com at Kansas. "Man, I'm excited about (racing at Talladega). Speedway racing is always stressful, but … ( Hendrick Motorsports ) brings such fast race cars to the race track and their speedway stuff is amazing. Always fast. Especially the 88. So, just really looking forward to having a chance to win. "I'm going to sit Dale down and have a couple-hour conversation with him about speedway racing. If there's a speedway racer left in this garage, it's him, for sure." The man's got a point. From a wins standpoint, Talladega ranks as Junior's best track with six, only closely followed by four wins at Daytona, another Earnhardt cornerstone -- and another superspeedway. Bowman's 'Dega stats don't match Junior's, of course, but he did pilot the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet to a 16th-place finish just last year. And while it's almost jarring to hear a driver say that he is "excited" for Talladega, it's unsurprising coming from Bowman , who'll have the roar of the crowd on his side -- a fanbase that has named the man he's replacing NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for 13 years running. "Junior Nation has been great," said Bowman , 23. "It's been really cool; they've just been really supportive. Every now and then there's one fan that hates me, but for the most part they've been awesome. Casey Mears fans hate me after (Charlotte), because apparently it was my fault that we blew a tire and wrecked him, but Junior Nation has been awesome." RELATED: Dale Jr. to join broadcasts for Talladega, Martinsville Not only does Bowman have full access to Earnhardt's Talladega insight, a wealth of knowledge so deep it likely needs its own Dewey Decimal System, he's sharing substitute driving duties with a four-time Sprint Cup champ and six-time 'Dega winner in Jeff Gordon . "It’s been really cool (to share a ride with Gordon). Jeff was my favorite driver growing up when I was a kid," Bowman said. "It's been really good to learn from him. He's an open book. All five of my teammates are complete open books. It's great to lean on them and learn as much as I can, but Jeff just has so much experience and has a really interesting view on a lot of things. "It's been a great time just listening and observing and learning everything I can from him." The lessons taken at "Gordon Drivers Ed, Inc." appear to be working, too. While the final results might not show the whole picture, Bowman , at times, has looked like the more competitive driver behind the wheel of the No. 88, and owns the car's best finish -- seventh -- since Earnhardt placed second at Pocono way back in June. Bowman says that some people joke with him and say "Oh, I'm glad to see you've finally learned how to drive." He's always known how to drive, it's just been more about opportunities. And if luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, "Bad Luck Bowman " -- a driver that once learned he'd been fired via Twitter -- knows the magnitude of the opportunity presented to him this weekend and in his remaining races. And you can be sure he'll be prepared. "I hope (this opportunity has put my name out there)," Bowman said. "We've talked to a lot of people and it always comes back to money. It's always 'Well, do you have any sponsorship?' 'Do you have any funding?' I don't, so it's just … the sport's such a business at this point that it really kind of limits what I can and can't get into and that's what's limited what I can and can't get into for the last four years. "I don't have anything lined up (for next year yet). I think my role that I had at Hendrick Motorsports before all this happened is still going to be the same. Still being a part of the team, still doing all the simulator stuff and helping as much as I can. I don't think that will change. Obviously, when Dale comes back and all that, I don't really know what that leaves for me as far as driving anything. "I don't know what the future holds there. I don't have anything going forward, really." In the short-term, at least, he'll have the full support of Junior Nation at Talladega. </p>
Junior to Bowman : 'Relax' and show others what you can do
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman talks with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway about fill-in driver Alex Bowman and his determination to make the most of his opportunity in the No. 88 car.
Ailing Bowman presses on, nabs career-best finish
RELATED: Harvick closes out Kansas win Alex Bowman secured his career-best finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Sunday, pushing to a seventh-place run as Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s substitute in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. And he did so while battling a severe stomach bug made the feat all the more remarkable. Earnhardt posted a picture to his Twitter account Sunday after the Hollywood Casino 400 , showing his interim driver on a gurney in Kansas Speedway 's infield care center -- an intravenous drip hung over his head and a cold compress on his forehead. Bowman , who said last weekend that he currently doesn't have any 2017 plans in place, gave it his all Sunday, ending the 400-miler as the top finisher outside the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. It's just his second top-10 result in 77 career starts. While he wasn't dicing amongst the victory contenders after an early brush with the wall, his gutsy performance on a sunny Sunday afternoon made a lasting impression. The Showman @AlexBRacing did good today. Top 10 with a stomach bug. @nationwide88 guys gave him a great car. pic.twitter.com/ct6VTbZ8xB — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) October 16, 2016
Bowman hits the wall early at Charlotte
Alex Bowman , filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., blows a tire and hits the wall early at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Dale Jr. backs Bowman , will tackle Talladega on the air
RELATED: Alex Bowman's time to shine TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Talladega's favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr ., won't be racing this weekend but much to the pleasure of his massive fandom, he will be trackside helping his Hendrick Motorsports team and even working in the MRN radio and NBCSN television booth during Sunday's Hellmann's 500. Earnhardt, who is sidelined for the remainder of the season while he recovers from concussion-like symptoms, was a popular sight in Talladega's garage Friday afternoon. He shared his thoughts in an impromptu interview outside his team's hauler just before opening Sprint Cup Series practice. Earnhardt seemed eager to return to the announcing booth during the race -- something he'll do on both radio and television. "It gives me an opportunity to see the racing from a different perspective and that's an opportunity to learn something about the sport," Earnhardt said. "It'll be fun. It'll be a neat experience. "I've been in the booth before and had a great time at Michigan this year for the XFINITY race. I won't be doing the whole race [Sunday], but … I'm glad I have the opportunity and to be able to still kinda be around and be a witness to what's happening at the race track. It's better than sitting at home. "I don't really get nervous any more," Earnhardt added with a smile. "The only thing that ever made me nervous was driving race cars. I don't feel nervous. I feel good about going up there. What's the worst thing that could happen, right?" Earnhardt was very complimentary of Alex Bowman , who along with veteran Jeff Gordon , has been filling in for him in the No. 88 Mountain Dew Chevrolet. In six starts for Earnhardt, Bowman has a pair of top-10 finishes. He scored his best showing of seventh place last week at Kansas -- while suffering from a stomach bug that made him so sick, the 23-year-old was on a stretcher getting an IV after the race. "The night before [the race] was a terrible evening as far as how he felt even getting a good night's sleep," Earnhardt said. "I was very surprised he was as competitive as he was, as bad as he felt. He was very nauseous throughout the race. He was a real trouper. Most of those guys on track have that grit and determination. "But he can do it. And he's capable and belongs out there." This weekend's race at Talladega will be a new challenge for Bowman . However, Earnhardt has high expectations. "I think he's going to do great," Earnhardt said. "He's going to have fun and he's going to really enjoy the car because it's going to be competitive. We'll sit down and talk a lot and give him all the opportunities and understanding he can. He's already had some experience so some of the things we'll talk about will already make sense to him. "I'm looking forward to sharing what I can throughout the weekend to help him. I've told him from the start, now that's he's getting more opportunities and I'm out of the car for the rest of the year, he's able to kind of relax and realize he doesn't have to bottle up lightning for one particular weekend. He'll have a lot of opportunities this year to show what he can do. "He did that last weekend and pretty much every time he's been in the car he's shown he's fast and very capable and I expect that this weekend."
Bowman at 'Dega in No. 88: 'Big shoes to fill'
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman talks to Alex Bowman as he acknowledges that he has 'big shoes to fill,' driving the No. 88 at Talladega Superspeedway for fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Bowman 'Dale Earnhardt Jr. saved my career'
Alex Bowman speaks on the opportunity that Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave him and how his support saved and helped develop his career in NASCAR.
NASCAR reveals nominees for 2017 Hall of Fame class
RELATED: Five more names on list of 2017 Hall of Fame nominees " MORE: See the 2017 Hall of Fame nominees DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 24, 2016) -- Legendary engine builders, crew chiefs, owners, drivers and the most recognizable voice in motorsports. The talents, eras and levels may differ, but all share a common thread. They shaped NASCAR, and on Wednesday, they were recognized as nominees for the highest honor the sport bestows -- enshrinement into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. NASCAR today announced the 20 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, as well as the five nominees for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Included among the list are five first-time nominees, all legends who made excellence a habit through their various contributions to the sport. Among them are record-holding four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr .; the man with the most car owner wins in NASCAR national series history with 322, Jack Roush; former all-time consecutive starts leader Ricky Rudd; legendary motorsports broadcasting pioneer Ken Squier; and three-time premier series champion engine builder and three-time Daytona 500 -winning crew chief Waddell Wilson. For a full list of nominees, please see below. The nominees were selected by a nominating committee consisting of representatives from NASCAR and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from both major facilities and historic short tracks, and the media. The committee's votes were tabulated by accounting firm Ernst & Young. From the list of 20 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees, five inductees will be elected by the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel, which includes a nationwide fan vote on NASCAR.com. Voting Day for the 2017 class will be Wednesday, May 25. Added to this year's list of Landmark Award nominees is Janet Guthrie -- the first female driver to compete in a NASCAR premier series superspeedway race. The four returning nominees for the Landmark Award are H. Clay Earles, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Squier (more on each below). Potential Landmark Award recipients include competitors or those working in the sport as a member of a racing organization, track facility, race team, sponsor, media partner or being a general ambassador for the sport through a professional or non-professional role. Award winners remain eligible for NHOF enshrinement. Following are the 20 nominees for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, listed alphabetically: Buddy Baker , won 19 times in NASCAR's premier (now Sprint Cup ) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500. Red Byron , first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949. Richard Childress , 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series. Ray Evernham , three-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief. Ray Fox , legendary engine builder, crew chief and car owner. Rick Hendrick , 14-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series. Ron Hornaday , four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion. Harry Hyde , 1970 NASCAR premier series championship crew chief. Alan Kulwicki , 1992 NASCAR premier series champion. Mark Martin , 96-time race winner in NASCAR national series competition. Hershel McGriff , 1986 NASCAR west series champion. Raymond Parks , NASCAR's first champion car owner. Benny Parsons , 1973 NASCAR premier series champion. Larry Phillips , only five-time NASCAR weekly series national champion. Jack Roush , five-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series. Ricky Rudd , won 23 times in NASCAR's premier series, including the 1997 Brickyard 400. Ken Squier , legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner/namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. Mike Stefanik , winner of record-tying nine NASCAR championships. Waddell Wilson , won three NASCAR premier series championships as an engine builder. Robert Yates , won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner. The five nominees for the Landmark Award, listed alphabetically, are: H. Clay Earles , founder of Martinsville Speedway . Janet Guthrie , the first female to compete in a NASCAR premier series superspeedway race. Raymond Parks , NASCAR's first champion car owner. Ralph Seagraves, formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Ken Squier , legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner/namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. NASCAR Hall of Fame Nomination Eligibility -- Drivers who have competed in NASCAR for at least 10 years and been retired for two years are eligible for nomination to the NHOF. Previously, eligible drivers must have been retired for three years. -- In addition, drivers who have competed for a minimum of 10 years and reached their 55th birthday on or before Dec. 31 of the year prior to the nominating year are immediately eligible for the NHOF. -- Any driver who has competed for 30 or more years in NASCAR competition by Dec. 31 of the year prior to the nominating year is automatically eligible, regardless of age. -- Drivers may continue to compete after reaching any of the aforementioned milestones without compromising eligibility for nomination or induction. -- For non-drivers, individuals must have worked at least 10 years in the NASCAR industry. -- Individuals may also be considered who made significant achievements in the sport, but left the sport early due to a variety of circumstances. The 22-person Nominating Committee: NOMINATION COMMITTEE NASCAR Hall of Fame: Executive Director Winston Kelley; Historian Buz McKim. NASCAR Officials: Chairman / CEO Brian France; Vice Chairman Jim France; Vice Chairman of NASCAR Mike Helton; Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar; Executive Vice President / Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell; Executive Vice President / Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps; Senior Vice President, Competition Scott Miller; Senior Vice President, Marketing & Driver Services Jill Gregory. Track Owners/Operators: International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy; Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell; Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage; Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark; former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George; Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn; Pocono Raceway board of directors member Looie McNally; Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis; Holland Motorsports Complex operator Ron Bennett; Rockford Speedway operator Jody Deery; West Coast representative Ken Clapp. Media: Mike Joy, FOX.
Matt Kenseth's suspension upheld on final appeal
MORE: Official release on decision " Kenseth suspended for two races CONCORD, N.C. -- Matt Kenseth 's suspension from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition was upheld Thursday after a final appeal. The original probation period given was amended from six months to now through Dec. 31, 2015. The ruling issued by National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss at the NASCAR Research & Development Center will keep Kenseth out of the next two races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, at Texas this weekend and Phoenix the next. Moss' decision comes after a three-member panel upheld Kenseth's behavioral penalties -- stemming from his on-track fracas with rival Joey Logano last weekend at Martinsville Speedway -- during Thursday's initial appeals hearing. Moss' ruling is final. The burden of proof rested with Kenseth for the final appeal. In the first hearing, the burden of proof was NASCAR's responsibility. Earlier Thursday, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel ruled that Kenseth did not provide sufficient evidence to overturn his suspension or six-month probation for the on-track incident. The rotating three-member panel for the initial hearing was composed of Ken Clapp, NASCAR's vice president of marketing development until his retirement in 1999; Bill Mullis, a former driver and the owner of Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va.; and Dale Pinilis, longtime operator of historic Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. The final appeal was only the third hearing overseen by Moss, a former Gulfstream Aerospace executive who joined the NASCAR appeals process last year. Moss also heard the final appeal for behavioral penalties against driver Kurt Busch in February, and the last appeal for technical penalties against Richard Childress Racing 's No. 31 team in May. Moss upheld the decision of the three-member panel in both instances. Kenseth offered a smile as he arrived at the R&D Center on Thursday morning at approximately 8:10 a.m. ET, followed minutes later by team owner Joe Gibbs for the 9 a.m. hearing. RELATED: France explains reasoning behind penalty On Tuesday, NASCAR suspended Kenseth for the next two races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs for his role in a crash with Logano in the late stages of Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway . Kenseth was also placed on probation for six months. Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota, several laps down, made heavy contact with Logano's race-leading Team Penske No. 22 Ford, sending both cars into the Turn 1 wall. NASCAR competition officials parked Kenseth for the remainder of the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 . Kenseth, Gibbs and No. 20 crew chief Jason Ratcliff were each summoned to the NASCAR officials' hauler for post-race consultation. Kenseth was eliminated from championship eligibility during the three-race Contender Round in large part because of an on-track run-in with Logano at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 18. Contact from Logano nudged race leader Kenseth into a late-race spin, ending his bid for an automatic berth in the Chase's next round. WHAT TRANSPIRED: Kansas " Martinsville Kenseth expressed frustration at Logano's unapologetic stance after the incident, saying he "should have stopped running his mouth, A, and No. 2, he's lying when he said he didn't do it on purpose." Kenseth's irritation mounted in the two races that followed -- at Talladega, when Logano hindered his entry to pit road during a mid-race stop; and at Martinsville as Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski orchestrated their maneuvers in a series of mid-race restarts. The Penske drivers' arrangement on restarts was partially to blame for a crash with 65 laps remaining, bottling up the front-runners and snaring Kenseth, Keselowski and Kurt Busch with the most damage. Kenseth's No. 20 returned to the track after repairs, running at reduced pace before his wreck with Logano at the front of the field. Joe Gibbs Racing released a statement shortly after Tuesday's penalty was issued, saying Kenseth would appeal the severity of the punishment.
Opinion: Time for NASCAR to deliver message of its own
Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Are you not entertained? In a nod to the gladiator era, Martinsville Speedway 's round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason worked a packed coliseum into a frenzy Sunday, with Matt Kenseth taking his pound of flesh from Joey Logano in a move that stretched the limits of NASCAR's unwritten "boys, have at it" policy to let drivers settle differences amongst themselves. NASCAR's big-league playoffs channeled shades of a Saturday night showdown at Bowman Gray Stadium , the historic NASCAR-sanctioned short track where weekend warriors fuel their long-running feuds with regular fits of retaliation -- all to the delight of the bloodthirsty crowd. Sunday, shockingly, it happened with the cameras rolling on one of stock-car racing's biggest stages. RELATED: Logano calls Kenseth a 'complete coward' At the center was Kenseth, who -- to borrow baseball jargon -- had already backed Logano off the plate with instances of hard racing over the course of the first 400 laps. But what happened on Lap 454 was no mere brushback pitch. This was a purposeful beanball directed at the head, the result of bubbling-over tensions from Logano's punting of Kenseth in a late-race battle for the lead at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago. In the short trip from his car's wrecked carcass to the infield care center, Kenseth conjured up mechanical or tire-failure hokum in a thin attempt to explain away the telegraphed laying in wait for payback. Maybe his car wouldn't turn or stop, but it was driveable enough to plow Logano's Ford into the wall like so much snow. The surprising move runs crosscurrent to Kenseth's mild-mannered and relatively easy-going reputation. But that character has also shown glimpses of a testy nature over his career, with Sunday's showing, his history of bumper cars at the same Martinsville track with Brian Vickers a few years ago, and his famed post-race tackle between the haulers of Brad Keselowski in the Charlotte Chase race making that short list. GALLERY: Photos of the incident from the track, garage Kenseth may not take ownership of the crash or his intent, but it's a teachable moment and an opportunity for NASCAR officials to take ownership of the competition back in house. Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Sunday evening that series officials were "certainly disappointed" in the run-in and that it merited further discussion, with any possible penalties emerging Tuesday. Even O'Donnell smiled with a "no comment" when asked if Kenseth's car failure theory was plausible. Longtime fans would have to dig back into the sport's lawless, rough-and-tumble early years to find a similar example, but there isn't really a comparable case in recent memory for Sunday's antics, where an ailing, laps-down driver decides that a dominant, leading driver won't make it to the finish. The Jeff Gordon - Clint Bowyer altercation at Phoenix in November 2012 comes close, with off-the-pace Gordon waiting for Bowyer to pass before ramming his rival, ultimately earning a $100,000 fine and 25-point penalty. Kyle Busch wrecking Ron Hornaday under caution during a truck race at Texas a few years back? Also close, but the two principles in that instance were both on the same lap, racing for position before tensions erupted. At stock-car racing's weekly levels, laps-down drivers wait on leading cars to mete out revenge and it's all part of the show. Is it part of the Sprint Cup show? Tuesday's anticipated penalty announcement -- and the promotional ads pitching the series' next race this weekend at Texas -- will tell the tale. NASCAR officials want to see emotions from competitors, but they also don't want to see cars wielded as weapons, especially with hard, intentional hits on the driver's side. They also want what's best for fans, who cheered lustily at Sunday's developments, though it may have been driven as much by Logano's comeuppance for his recent unapologetic aggression as by Kenseth's unsavory methods. Kenseth sent a message by unceremoniously ending Logano's three-victory streak with gusto. Now it's NASCAR's turn to deliver a message, one that resembles a 95-mph fastball high and inside. Otherwise, it's time to revise the 2016 schedule to add Bowman Gray to the Chase and allow the "boys, have at it" mantra to spread its wings in the name of entertainment. POLL: What's your opinion on incident?