The successor to Jimmie Johnson‘s #48 Hendrick Motorsports car has been revealed, and it is a familiar face for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. On Tuesday, Hendrick announced Johnson’s team-mate Alex Bowman will move from the #88 to the #48 for the 2021 season.
Bowman has spent the last three seasons driving the #88, recording two wins and playoff berths every year. In 2020, he has eleven top-ten finishes and a win at Fontana, and currently sits sixth in points entering the Round of 12 elimination race. He will have some very big shoes to fill in the #48, but it will not be his time replacing an icon as the #88 was previously driven by perennial fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr. before his retirement. Bowman joined the organisation in late 2014 as part of Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team in the Xfinity Series; after making sporadic starts in the #88 as a substitute for the injured Earnhardt, Bowman became the permanent driver in 2018. He signed a contract extension in May.
“I’ve had 19 mind blowing seasons in the 48, now it’s your turn @alexbowman88,” Johnson tweeted. The NASCAR great will make the jump to the IndyCar Series in 2021. “I know I’m leaving her in great hands brother.”
Greg Ives, his crew chief on the #88, will join him at the #48 team. Johnson’s sponsor Ally Financial will continue supporting the car through 2023. Interestingly, although the #48 débuted as a full-time car in 2002 with Johnson, Bowman is not the second driver to run a points race in it. Justin Allgaier, currently a JRM driver, holds that honour after running the Brickyard 400 in July as an interim racer.
“I’ve worked my entire life to be in a situation like this,” Bowman stated. “The opportunity to drive a legendary car like the #48 with incredible support from Ally, it truly can’t get any better. I’m excited to build on my relationship with Greg, who is a championship-caliber crew chief and knows first-hand what the #48 is all about. The pieces are in place, and I’m grateful to Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and Ally. We’re ready to do it right.”
“We have tremendous faith in this team. Every season, Alex gets better,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “Not only do we see it in the statistics, but his confidence and leadership have truly blossomed. Today he’s a proven winner and playoff contender, and his best years are ahead. Greg has won championships and races, and he brings the No. 48 pedigree that’s invaluable. When you add in the amazing enthusiasm and support from Ally, it’s quite a combination. Their partnership makes it all possible, and we look forward to celebrating many successes together in the future.”
It is not the first time a full-time Hendrick driver changed numbers between seasons, let alone a member of the current stable. Bowman’s team-mate Chase Elliott piloted the #24 for his first two Cup seasons before changing to his current #9 in 2018. A decade prior, Casey Mears‘ two-year stint with the team in 2007 and 2008 saw him run the former in the #25 before jumping to the #5.
A replacement in the #88 was not immediately revealed. The free agent market is littered with various names including Matt DiBenedetto, who disclosed in a SiriusXM interview on Tuesday morning that his future with Wood Brothers Racing is still uncertain, Erik Jones, who will not return to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021, and even the suspended Kyle Larson has been raised as a possibility.