Dale Jr.: Bowman ‘deserves’ to run The Clash – Nascar
“For whatever reason that was just my initial gut reaction and it feels important to me that that’s owed to Alex,” Earnhardt said on a conference call Friday, one day after NASCAR issued medical clearance for him to return to competition. “He deserves it. It is a bit of a tip of the cap to not only his pole win and how well he did at Phoenix, but how he stepped in and did a great job every week for our guys. That is not an easy job to do.”
Earnhardt had his own eligibility in the Clash by virtue of his 2008 victory in the event, then billed as the Budweiser Shootout and most recently known as the Sprint Unlimited. That preparatory win kicked off his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt said he couldn’t remember the last time he had won a pole position in NASCAR’s top series. A deeper dig into the stat books shows it came in September 2013 at Dover International Speedway.
The 42-year-old Earnhardt had been sidelined from NASCAR competition since July. Under close supervision, he drove a race car for the first time since his head injury diagnosis, turning laps Wednesday at Darlington Raceway.
Bowman, 23, has no announced driving plans for next season. Aside from serving as a substitute in the No. 88, Bowman ran nine races for Earnhardt-owned JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and helped the Hendrick organization with simulator work.
But it was the performance and the bonds Bowman helped to forge as a NASCAR pinch-hitter that stood out to Earnhardt as he preps for a 2017 return.
“He helped maintain and improve the health and performance of the team in a critical time, so we can go into Daytona this year confident that we are going to be competitive and we are not behind the 8-ball or have any catching up to do,” Earnhardt said. “I’m excited for Alex to get that opportunity and I’m happy that it’s with Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the guys that he has worked with over the last several races.”
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