MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Alex Bowman helped to take the cover off the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet he’ll drive next season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, capping off an afternoon of surprises at GoPro Motorplex. But those biggest surprises weren’t necessarily on the car itself.
Though his predecessor Dale Earnhardt Jr. was by his side for Thursday’s reveal, the paint scheme for Bowman’s 2019 ride signaled that he’s working to establish some of his own identity as the face of the No. 88. The new-look design featured some subtle changes, with many styling cues carrying over from his first full season with Hendrick Motorsports.
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“He was still standing by it,” Bowman joked about Earnhardt’s presence. “I don’t know. I feel like everybody’s been really supportive and Nationwide’s really embraced me as well as Axalta, Llumar and Valvoline and everybody at HMS have been super-supportive. That hasn’t been too bad.
“Definitely there are a lot of Dale Jr. fans out there and it’s cool to kind of take over the 88 car, but it’s also really cool to have Dale’s support and all his help.”
Bowman said that the patriotic No. 88 design that he drove at the Coca-Cola 600 last May served as a starting point for creating the 2019 model. Both Bowman and Earnhardt expressed their adoration for the expanded sections of white on the side panels — all the better to show tire marks and race-worn grime, they agreed.
“For me, I don’t know that every driver’s the same, probably not, but man, I had to like the car I was driving, and I wanted to,” said Earnhardt, who estimated he had a hand in the design of 95 percent of the cars he drove during his career. “It made me want to drive it, made me want to race it, made me excited to do well with it.”
Earnhardt, who transitioned to the broadcast booth for NBC Sports this year after retiring from full-time driving, lent his support Thursday as an emcee for social-media streams of the car’s unveiling. He also gave the event his blessing as a longtime Nationwide endorser, surprising local fans recruited by the insurance company to attend.
Bowman gave his own surprises on the .7-mile karting track, making liberal use of his front bumper with fans and media alike. Guests watching the unveil were asked for a show of hands: “Who got spun out by Alex?” More than one hand shot up.
“It was fun. I tried to run into a couple of them to give them that authentic NASCAR experience,” Bowman said. “It was cool.”