clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NASCAR New Hampshire 2016: Lineup, starting grid for New Hampshire 301

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. sidelined, his replacement Alex Bowman steps into the spotlight ready to take advantage of the opportunity.

Opportunity was calling and Alex Bowman wasn't answering on Tuesday. Instead, he sent the call to voicemail.

On the other end of the phone was Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Greg Ives, checking on Bowman's availability and whether he could serve as a standby in case Dale Earnhardt Jr., who thought he was fighting a sinus infection or allergies, wasn't healthy enough to drive in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Eventually the 23-year-old and Ives connected, and when a neurologist informed Earnhardt on Wednesday he had concussion-like symptoms, it meant Bowman would drive the No. 88 Chevrolet from green to checkered flag, as Earnhardt is sidelined indefinitely.

"Yeah, it's been a crazy 12 hours," Bowman said Friday. "I think the first time Greg called me I was at work, so I didn't even answer."

That Bowman, who lines up 20th on the starting grid, gets to drive for one of NASCAR's top organizations is a chance he's never had previously. From 2014-2015, he drove for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, two underfunded operations without anywhere near the resources and caliber of equipment a powerhouse like Hendrick offers.

In 71 total Sprint Cup starts, Bowman's best finish was a 13th in the July 2014 race at Daytona International Speedway. On Sunday, he'll have an excellent chance to surpass that result.

"It's definitely not the circumstances that I want to get an opportunity like this," Bowman said. "Obviously, I'm hoping Dale feels better, but at the same time it's the best opportunity I've ever had in my life. I'm ready to just plug into their program and do my job. I'll give them the best feedback I can and go from there. I'm really confident in the whole team."

This marks the second time in 2016 Earnhardt has provided Bowman with a platform to prove himself. When Bowman unexpectedly lost his ride with TBR in January just weeks before the season was to begin -- he learned the news via social media -- Earnhardt called asking him to drive nine Xfinity Series races for JR Motorsports, the team Earnhardt co-owns in NASCAR's second-tier division.

Bowman has made four Xfinity starts, each time finishing 10th or better and twice almost winning. Because JRM and Hendrick share a tight alliance, Bowman has some familiarity with the organization he'll drive for on Sunday.

"(Earnhardt) has been a good friend to me," Bowman said. "He has been somebody that I can lean on all the time. Obviously, I hate to see him not feeling well. That was my first thought, but he has done a lot for my career and I couldn't be any more thankful than I am. I owe him a lot. It's just been an honor to get the phone call to fill in for him."

Whether Bowman will get a second stint driving the No. 88 car is one of many unknowns stemming from a news story that stunned the NASCAR industry. It is uncertain if Earnhardt was diagnosed with a concussion -- Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt declined to answer when asked Friday -- and when he may return.

If Earnhardt is ruled out for next week's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Duchardt said Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to substitute. (The team would prefer to make an announcement on Earnhardt's status no later than Wednesday.)

And even if New Hampshire is Bowman's lone start filling Earnhardt's seat, a good result would create a lasting impression that could position him nicely for future opportunities -- be it with Hendrick, JRM or a different employer.

"I'm not here to try to be Dale Earnhardt Jr., I'm my own person," Bowman said. "I just have to do my job."

"Obviously, I would like to impress people, but I'm not going to do anything crazy."

New Hampshire 301 starting lineup

Position Driver Make Speed
1 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 133.971
2 Kyle Busch Toyota 133.830
3 Martin Truex, Jr. Toyota 133.371
4 Kurt Busch Chevrolet 133.059
5 Denny Hamlin Toyota 133.059
6 Joey Logano Ford 132.915
7 Chase Elliott Chevrolet 132.720
8 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 132.697
9 Brad Keselowski Ford 132.692
10 A.J. Allmendinger Chevrolet 132.618
11 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 132.126
12 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 131.989
13 Carl Edwards Toyota 132.822
14 Ryan Blaney Ford 132.799
15 Austin Dillon Chevrolet 132.780
16 Matt DiBenedetto Toyota 132.683
17 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 132.471
18 Matt Kenseth Toyota 132.278
19 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 132.241
20 Alex Bowman Chevrolet 132.057
21 Casey Mears Chevrolet 131.724
22 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Ford 131.678
23 David Ragan Toyota 131.665
24 Paul Menard Chevrolet 131.180
25 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 131.501
26 Aric Almirola Ford 131.401
27 Michael McDowell Chevrolet 130.954
28 Greg Biffle Ford 130.711
29 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 130.568
30 Landon Cassill Ford 130.568
31 Trevor Bayne Ford 130.559
32 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 130.367
33 Brian Scott Ford 130.224
34 Regan Smith Chevrolet 129.812
35 Chris Buescher Ford 128.680
36 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet 128.070
37 Michael Annett Chevrolet 126.774
38 Eddie MacDonald Ford 126.690
39 Josh Wise Chevrolet 126.534
40 Ryan Ellis Chevrolet 124.871