Alex Bowman’s Status Tips Rick Hendrick’s Hand About the NASCAR Team’s Future

Rick Hendrick did more than just hand the keys to the car to Alex Bowman last offseason. The owner of the winningest NASCAR Cup Series team ever handed his 28-year-old driver the keys to the car.

Putting Bowman, who owned a modest two victories in 188 starts, into the No. 48 Chevy was a vote of confidence by Hendrick. What the owner did in mid-June was another vote of confidence. It was also potential insight into the future of Hendrick Motorsports.

Alex Bowman has met the challenge in the No. 48 Chevy

With job security through the 2023 season, Alex Bowman can focus on winning more races for Rick Hendrick in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet. | Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
With job security through the 2023 season, Alex Bowman can focus on winning more races for Rick Hendrick in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet. | Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson was everything Hendrick could have asked for in a driver. He spent his entire two-decade Cup Series career with the team, won 83 races, and earned seven season championships. Not insignificantly, he also kept his nose clean away from the track.

The success and the image made Johnson marketable on his own and as part of Hendrick Motorsports, and the driver enjoyed a long association with a major brand by driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy. When Lowe’s bowed out after the 2018 season, Ally Financial signed a two-year agreement to fully fund the car.

Johnson retired from the Cup series at the end of last season, leaving Hendrick with an important decision: Who could he put in the No. 48 car who could carry on Johnson’s legacy on the track and retain Ally’s backing? Hendrick also had Chase Elliott and William Byron in the fold, but he gave the No. 48 to Bowman.

Bowman has rewarded that faith with a pair of victories and six more top-10 finishes as the Cup Series comes to the midpoint of its 2021 schedule.

Hendrick Motorsports extended Alex Bowman’s contract

Bowman is in a somewhat curious competitive position: Though he ranks a respectable 11th in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings, he sits fourth — i.e., last place — in the Hendrick Motorsports hierarchy. Newcomer Kyle Larson is tearing it up on the track with three victories and eight other top-10s. Elliott and Byron have posted a victory apiece while running more consistently in the top 10 than Bowman.

Still, Bowman remains a threat to win every Sunday. That helps explain why Hendrick Motorsports and Ally Financial announced last week that they have extended Bowman’s contract through the end of the 2023 season.

“It’s really cool to know that Ally has faith in me and Mr. H has faith in me,” Bowman said. “I think matching the length of my contract up to Ally’s was kind of the goal all around, and what was kind of expected and normal. The way the industry is today, there aren’t five-year contracts out there like there used to be.

“I’m not going to complain too much. I’m driving the 48 for Hendrick Motorsports — it’s not so bad,” he concluded in the understatement of the year.

Hendrick is setting the table for the future

Addressing Bowman’s future is Hendrick’s first step toward maintaining dominance in the NASCAR Cup Series. It’s also an indication that the longtime owner, who will turn 72 in July, is engaging in succession planning.

There has been speculation this spring that Hendrick is preparing to hand more responsibility to Jeff Gordon, the retired Cup Series great who holds a minority stake in Hendrick Motorsports. If that’s true, then Hendrick might be trying to lock down key pieces so Gordon doesn’t face a full plate of decisions right out of the gate.

According to Jayski.com, Hendrick has signed all four drivers through next season. With the security of Bowman’s No. 48 Ally Chevy assured, Hendrick has a year to work on both ends of the deals — signing the drivers and locking in sponsorships — for the three other cars.

Given how well the current season is going, Hendrick could be setting the stage for a series of announcements shortly before the 2022 Daytona 500, possibly culminating with the owner revealing his own future plans.

If that’s the plan — and if the process goes accordingly — then the organization could be positioned nicely through the early part of the decade.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.

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