‘On the Hot Seat: Alex Bowman’ is the third part in a series of articles that examine drivers who may be in a different spot next season. Their situation may be due to contract prospects, developments in the sport, or evolving interests.
The 2021 season marks the fourth full-time year that Alex Bowman is driving for Hendrick Motorsports. His NASCAR Cup career began in 2014 as a driver for BK Racing. He then went to Tommy Baldwin Racing for the 2015 season. Bowman’s big break came in 2016 when Hendrick Motorsports needed a driver to share the seat of the No. 88 with Jeff Gordon.
Alex Bowman and Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsport’s regular driver of the No. 88, Dale Earnhardt Jr, was out of the car with a concussion injury. Despite the circumstances, Bowman produced impressive results. One of his best results came in the fall with a dominant performance at his home track in Phoenix. Bowman, however, fell just short of his first Cup Series win.
Throughout the 2017 season, Bowman was doing simulator work for Hendrick Motorsports. Happy with his work, they decided to make Bowman their full-time driver of the No. 88 for the 2018 season. Throughout his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman has two wins, 17 top-five and 41 top-ten finishes.
The 2020 Season in the Playoffs
Making the playoffs last year, Bowman’s performance was very strong. His elimination in the Round of 8, however, cost him a chance to win the championship in Phoenix. Officially, he was sixth in the overall point standings and the eventual title went to his Hendrick teammate, Chase Elliott. The consolation for Bowman is that he holds the second-most total points during the playoffs.
On the Hot Seat: Alex Bowman
Bowman’s strong performance, may make it surprising as to why he finds himself on the hot seat.
The main reason is sponsorship money. Sponsorship dollars are hard to come by in recent years. Even mega-teams like Hendrick Motorsports are not immune as in 2020 the No. 88 car had a patchwork of sponsors.
During the off-season, Hendrick Motorsports went to work re-organizing the team lineup. The No. 88 team of last year is now the No. 48. As a result, Alex Bowman inherits the retiring seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s number and his sponsor, Ally Financial. The move ensures Bowman has sufficient sponsorship for the next several seasons.
The broader Hendrick organization, however, is still in a weak sponsorship position. Kyle Larson in the No. 5 car has only one non-Hendrick affiliate sponsor in Freightliner Trucks. Mr. Hendrick has also reached into his pocket to cover expenses for the No. 24 of William Byron for several races.
Last year, there were rumors of Hendrick Motorsports consolidating their resources by downsizing to a three-car team. Given that sponsorship remains an issue, downsizing may still be in consideration for the future. If so, Alex Bowman may indeed feel his seat getting warm. Especially, considering the performance of his teammates this year. William Byron and Kyle Larson both have victories. Defending champion and perennial ‘Most Popular Driver,’ Chase Elliott, will also not be leaving Hendrick Motorsports any time soon.
Bowman Needs More than Solid Work
Make no mistake, Alex Bowman is an outstanding driver and is doing solid work in the No. 48 Chevrolet. He is, however, now 17th in the point standings, just below the playoff cut line. The current trend of different winners this season means that solid work is not enough to ensure a playoff spot. To cool down his seat, Alex Bowman needs to perform at an even higher level going forward. The goal is a tall order, given the competitive nature of the 2021 season.