NASCAR’s three manufacturers – Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford – joined Goodyear for a two-day wheel force transducer test that concluded Wednesday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway. The session, designed to gather data for the manufacturers and teams to improve their simulation programs, also served as a jumpstart for the driver tabbed to replace NASCAR’s biggest superstar.

Chevrolet driver Alex Bowman, who is set to replace retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet beginning next season, got the opportunity to test Texas Motor Speedway’s newly repaved and re-profiled surface along with two other drivers. Landon Cassill, driver of the No. 34 entry for Front Row Motorsports, was representing Ford in the test while Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver Drew Herring, who has two starts in the No. 24 NASCAR XFINITY Series entry for the organization, represented Toyota.

For Bowman, the test session offered the 24-year-old Tucson, Arizona native the chance to prepare for what is set to be a memorable 2018 season in the No. 88 entry. It already is a seat he is familiar with as he served as Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement driver in 10 of the final 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races in 2016 while the NASCAR star was sidelined with a concussion. Bowman earned three top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place effort at Phoenix after starting from the pole.
Bowman, who did not have a ride in 2017, got the backing of Earnhardt Jr. as a prime candidate to replace him and the team announced their intentions in July. Having not raced in Cup or XFINITY this season, Bowman got some valuable seat time during the test at Texas Motor Speedway, a track where he has earned two of his three career XFINITY Series poles.
“Texas has really changed a lot since the last time I’ve been here,” Bowman said with a chuckle. “It’s been really interesting. (Turns) 1 and 2 are definitely tricky. It’s really hard with three cars to get the track rubbered in and blown off.
“I love this place. It’s a great place to come. There seems to be a lot of great fans and it’s always fun to come to Texas.”
The pressure of taking over the ride of Earnhardt Jr., who has won NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” award for 14 consecutive seasons, hasn’t fazed Bowman since the news was announced.
For Bowman, the approach remains simple as he prepares to join the 2018 Hendrick Motorsports lineup that includes seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and rookie Cup driver William Byron.  
“I’m going to have as much fun as I can,” Bowman said. “I’m not Dale Earnhardt Jr. I can only be myself. I’m going to do my thing. It’s just a normal race car. It’s not any different from anything that I’ve done. It’s just that we have more tools and more resources to be more competitive.”
While Earnhardt Jr. will not be behind the wheel next year, Bowman knows he will not have to go far to seek his advice.
“I think he is going to be a big part of the (No.) 88 team,” Bowman said. “He’s a great person to have for support and a great teammate to lean on. I think he is going to be a big part of the team and we’ll kind of just wait and see. He’s been a big part of it so far when I’ve been in the car. I think going forward in 2018 it will be more of the same.”  
Before Bowman makes his Texas Motor Speedway debut in the No. 88 next April, fans will get their chance to salute Earnhardt Jr. one last time during the upcoming AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, Nov. 5. Tickets for the AAA Texas 500 are available by visiting or by calling (817) 215-8500. 
TMS PR/Photo Getty Images for NASCAR
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