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
|3||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||133.371|
|22||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||131.678|