He’d rather be known as a win­ner

Bow­man isn’t thrilled be­ing ‘Show­man,’ but he’s learn­ing to ‘own it’

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Edgar Thomp­son egth­omp­[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel. com

Alex Bow­man wants to be known for more than a num­ber or a nick­name.

Even at speeds ex­ceed­ing 200 mph, the reign­ing pole-sit­ter at the Day­tona 500 has strug­gled to dis­tance him­self from ei­ther one.

The driver tabbed “Bow­man the Show­man” en­ters his sec­ond full sea­son be­hind the wheel of the No. 88 car made fa­mous by Dale Earn­hardt Jr.

The ex­pec­ta­tions and pres­sures from Ju­nior’s stead­fast fan base have been in­evitable. On the eve of Sun­day’s qual­i­fy­ing ses­sions, Bow­man said he has grown com­fort­able field­ing in­quiries about suc­ceed­ing a two-time 500 win­ner.

“That’s just part of it,” Bow­man said Satur­day at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way. “I wouldn’t be here with­out Dale. It’s an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity and I’m very thank­ful for all his help and sup­port. So I’m sure the ques­tions will keep com­ing.”

Bow­man is less en­thralled with dis­cussing his catchy moniker. He has, at least, come to ac­cept it.

“It’s just stuck at this point and I’m not get­ting rid of it,” he said. “I was not a huge fan of it at first. But I feel like if you make your own nick­name, that’s like wear­ing your own T-shirt. You can’t do that.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I am stuck with what I’ve got and I’ve just kind of got to own it.”

In the end, Bow­man wants to be known for win­ning.

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team­mate Jim­mie John­son, a sev­en­time Cup se­ries cham­pion, said that, too, is in­evitable for the

25-year-old.

“I feel like he has un­lim­ited po­ten­tial,” John­son said. “My first year in Cup I was 25 and turned

26. … He’s been around for a hand­ful of years. But he still has so much run­way left.”

Bow­man’s early years were a rough ride. The Tuc­son, Ariz., na­tive be­came a full-time Cup se­ries mem­ber in 2014 at age 21 but con­tin­ues to seek his first win.

“I feel like I’m work­ing harder than I ever have and do­ing more to pre­pare than I ever have,” he said. “I feel like last year, for me, it kind of ex­posed my weak­nesses and ex­posed ar­eas that I could im­prove on.”

Even so, Bow­man, who posted

11 top-10 fin­ishes, did make strides as a driver.

Af­ter fail­ing to crack the top 10 even once dur­ing his first two sea­sons, Bow­man lost his ride in the sport’s top se­ries. The show, though, would go on.

Rec­og­niz­ing Bow­man’s ta­lent and re­cov­er­ing from a se­vere con­cus­sion, Earn­hardt asked him and four-time se­ries cham­pion Jeff Gor­don to share the No. 88 car in

2016.

Bow­man had four top-20 fin­ishes in eight starts be­fore cap­tur­ing the pole dur­ing the sea­son’s penul­ti­mate week at Phoenix. He then nearly won the race be­fore fall­ing to sixth place.

Bow­man’s first vic­tory in NASCAR came the fol­low­ing sea­son while rac­ing on its Xfin­ity Se­ries, set­ting the stage for him to take over for Earn­hardt in 2018.

Bow­man wasted lit­tle time prov­ing a wor­thy suc­ces­sor, be­com­ing the fourth con­sec­u­tive pole-sit­ter for Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports. Bow­man, who would fin­ish 17th af­ter a wreck dur­ing over­time, would like to be­come the iconic team owner’s record-ty­ing ninth Day­tona 500 win­ner, join­ing Petty En­ter­prises.

Bow­man’s qual­i­fy­ing suc­cess notwith­stand­ing, the 2018 sea­son was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally slow for Hen­drick’s four-driver team. Three wins dur­ing the fi­nal 15 races by 22-year-old Chase El­liott were all the group mus­tered.

John­son went win­less for the

first time in 17 sea­sons.

“Last year isn’t what we ex­pect,” Bow­man said. “It isn’t what Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports is.”

Con­fi­dent, fear­less and promis­ing, Bow­man fits the pro­file for an owner who gave Gor­don and John­son their starts as 20-some­things.

Bow­man now looks to set his own path and make his own name.

John­son said his young team­mate will get the chance once he steers the No. 88 car to Vic­tory Lane.

“It has a de­cent ring to it,” John­son said of the Show­man tag. “If he rings the bell and goes to Vic­tory Lane and puts on a hel­luva dis­play, he can change the nar­ra­tive on that.”

SEAN GARD­NER/GETTY

Alex Bow­man takes a break dur­ing prac­tice for the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries 61st An­nual Day­tona 500 on Satur­day.

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