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Bowman Feels No Pressure Starting from Daytona 500 Pole in Famous No. 48

When Alex Bowman takes the green flag for the Daytona 500 this Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX), one should expect the pressure to be immense.

He will lead the field to green after scoring his second career Daytona 500 pole Wednesday night, and he’ll be driving for one of the best teams in the NASCAR Cup Series, behind one of the most historic numbers in the sport: the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

No extra pressure, right? No, seriously – none.

“I’m just being me,” Bowman said. “I’m going to put a ton of pressure on myself regardless of what the number says on the side of the race car, so I’m just going to go try to win races and do the best I can. That’s really all I can do.”

Bowman’s indifference to the pressure of slotting into seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson’s car after his transition to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with Chip Ganassi Racing comes from personal experience.

He’s been here before.

Bowman, 27, famously stepped into a nearly identical role in 2018 when he replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet when the 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver retired at the end of the 2017 season. Bowman also stood up to the pressure then, winning his first career Daytona 500 pole in his first outing in the No. 88.

Since joining Hendrick Motorsports full time that season, he has never started off the front row for the season-opening race. No driver in NASCAR history has started on the front row for the Daytona 500 in four consecutive years. It also marked Hendrick Motorsports’ sixth Daytona 500 pole in seven years, and Bowman was joined on the front row by teammate William Byron in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

“It’s pretty incredible, right?” he said. “I’m so appreciative and blessed with this opportunity. I think for me, it’s really hard to sit here and be like, ‘Yeah, I did it, and I did this and that, and that’s why we’re on the pole.’ It’s much more about Hendrick Motorsports, the No. 48 team and (crew chief) Greg Ives … I floored it, but I’m pretty sure everybody else did, too. Just appreciative that my race car is really fast.”

A main reason why Bowman was transitioned to the No. 48 this season was with the goal of returning the iconic number to Victory Lane. The number he now represents hasn’t seen a driver hoist a trophy since Johnson scored his final career NASCAR Cup Series win in June 2017 at Dover International Speedway.

That was also the goal when Bowman was hired in 2018, and he eventually did so. When Tucson, Arizona, native Bowman hopped in the No. 88 full time, it hadn’t visited Victory Lane in over two years.

It took him a season to adjust, but Bowman finally returned Earnhardt’s number to Victory Lane in 2019 at Chicagoland Speedway after a riveting battle with new teammate Kyle Larson. He backed it up with a convincing win last season at Auto Club Speedway.

That was enough for team owner Rick Hendrick to believe Bowman was the guy to steer the No. 48 in the right direction again.

“We have tremendous faith in this team,” Hendrick said. “Every season, Alex gets better. Not only do we see it in the statistics, but his confidence and leadership have truly blossomed. Today, he’s a proven winner and playoff contender, and his best years are ahead.”

Having one of the most successful team owners in NASCAR history in your corner certainly helps. Hendrick’s faith in Bowman can be traced back to 2016 when Bowman was tapped as a co-substitute driver of the No. 88 with Jeff Gordon while Earnhardt was out with a concussion.

Bowman excelled in the role, scoring three top-10 finishes in 10 starts and famously coming oh-so-close to winning at his home track of Phoenix Raceway when he won the pole and led 194 laps before finishing sixth.

That performance led Earnhardt to hand-pick Bowman as his replacement even though he had spent the last two seasons driving full time for underfunded Cup Series teams. Before he joined Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman’s best season was 2015, when he had an average finish of 31st and led a total of three laps.

Bowman’s success story from back marker to race winner is rare in NASCAR these days, but he insists that experience is what takes some of the pressure off his shoulders when put in these high-profile situations.

Now, instead of overcoming the pressure, Bowman thinks he can already look at the big picture goals: win multiple races in a season, be more consistent during the summer, advance to the final round of the NASCAR Playoffs and, of course, win the Daytona 500.

“We want to get the No. 48 back to Victory Lane, and doing it at the Daytona 500 would be really cool,” said Bowman, who’s best Daytona 500 finish is 11th. “That’s a big goal for us, and multiple wins in a single season would be a big deal for me. I’ve learned a ton from (Jimmie Johnson), so hopefully I can make him proud and get the No. 48 back in Victory Lane.”

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