RICK HENDRICK, OWNER-HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, DALE EARNHARDT, JR-DRIVER NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, ALEX BOWMAN-ANNOUNCED 2018 PLUS DRIVER OF NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS AND JIM MCCOY-DIRECTOR MOTORSPORTS MARKETING NATIONWIDE met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed the naming of Alex Bowman as the new driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. retirement. Full transcript:
MODERATOR: We will continue on with today’s media availability for Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We have quite a panel assembled this morning. It’s a big week in our sport with the new driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet introduced for next year. So let’s introduce our panel. On the far right we have Jim McCoy, director of sports marketing at Nationwide. We have NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Rick Hendrick, who’s a 12-time champion in NASCAR and owner of Hendrick Motorsports. We have Alex Bowman, the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in 2018. Then Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who’s driving the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in 2017 and in today’s Brickyard 400.
ALEX, LET’S START WITH YOU. WHAT’S THE RESPONSE BEEN LIKE OVER THE LAST FEW DAYS SINCE THE NEWS CAME OUT FROM FANS, FRIENDS, FAMILY? DOES ANYTHING STAND OUT TO YOU ABOUT THIS WEEK?
ALEX BOWMAN: “It’s been a complete dream come true; a little bit overwhelming. I’m just so appreciative and thankful for the opportunity for Nationwide and Axalta to support me and Dale for everything he’s done. A lot of really cool stuff happened this week. I was kind of able to share everything on Thursday with my Dad. He was at the shop with us. I grew up in a body shop. He owns a small body shop back home in Tucson. So I got to take him through the Axalta center, which was really cool. That’s his world. I literally couldn’t get him to leave. So that was really cool to show him all that stuff. When I got the call my grandmother, that was really cool. She’s probably one of my biggest supporters. She was thrilled to death. It’s been amazing and a dream come true. Hendrick Motorsports is where I’ve always wanted to be. To make it here, like I said, is a dream come true.”
JIM, HOW DOES NATIONWIDE FEEL ABOUT THIS CONTRACT EXTENSION WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AND WITH HAVING ALEX IN THE 88 CAR?
JIM MCCOY: “We’re really excited to continue the partnership with Hendrick Motorsports. Since we signed the deal in December of 2014, they’ve just been a first-class partner to really help us get as much value as we can both on and off the racetrack. With the opportunity with Dale’s retirement, it created a new chance to take the relationship to a new place with Alex. He’s a young talented driver we have history with back in the Nationwide Series days. And, obviously, what he did last fall in the car was amazing in very tough circumstances. He’s really earned everything he’s gotten and we’re excited to get to work next year to really kick off the relationship in a big way in Daytona.”
MR HENDRICK, YOU’VE HAD LEGENDS DRIVE YOUR CAR, EITHER CURRENT NASCAR HALL-OF-FAMERS OR FUTURE NASCAR HALL-OF-FAMERS. WHY DID YOU FEEL ALEX WAS THE RIGHT MAN FOR THIS JOB IN THE 88 CAR?
RICK HENDRICK: “Well, when we called on Alex when Dale got hurt, to be honest with you I didn’t know a lot about Alex. I was going off of Dale’s recommendation. Then when he got in the car and the way he performed and the feedback he had with all of the teammates and crew chiefs, they were just super excited about how he performed. Then his relationship with the sponsors through that period played a big factor. And I think what really impressed me was he was so committed to our organization that he was willing to sign a deal just to do the Wheel Force car for GM or the simulator and wait for an opportunity. He’s committed, talented and he deserves the opportunity. I’m super excited to have him in the car. I just think he’s going to do an awesome job. He’s fast, smart, committed, so I’m super excited about Alex.”
DALE, YOU’VE LONG BEEN A SUPPORTER OF THIS GUY TO YOUR RIGHT HERE. WHAT DID YOU SEE IN ALEX THAT MADE YOU THINK HE WAS GOING TO BE A PERFECT FIT FOR THIS CAR?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: “Well, Alex, I believe in his talent on the racetrack. But his commitment off the racetrack to work to further his career to me over the last several years has been impressive. There are a lot of guys that have the talent and need that one critical break. And if they stay committed and keep pushing and are willing to make the sacrifices, eventually that opportunity might come along. Alex is the perfect example of that. I think he gets this opportunity because of his commitment to his own career and his gamble that he made a long, long time ago. He’s really had to make some sacrifices. A great example of that would be this year sort of sitting on the sidelines, so to speak. All the while he’s been in the simulator pretty much every day. The simulator is very, very boring work, but Alex is in there with a great attitude. I’ve been in there with him. Even throughout the season, he goes in there and works really hard, which is a key investment for Chevrolet, and it’s incredibly helpful to our company as a race team. He’s also driven the Wheel Force car, which is not a lot of fun, either. It’s very tedious work. He’s just really been a team player, knowing that if he put forth this effort he could possibly get this opportunity. This is something that’s kind of been building for Alex for many years. We’ve tried and tried and tried to get more and more opportunities for him, because any time we could put him in the car he produced. He’s always done an incredible job. I think the first time I saw Alex’s potential was at Phoenix in one of our Junior Motorsports cars. He stood out to me among everyone else on the racetrack as far as how smooth and perfect his line was lap after lap. That’s a very technical track where you can’t over-drive the car. And he ran the car to its limit without over-stepping that line lap after lap. He became so dependable lap after lap. That’s what I start to see in him more as I watch him today. He’s very dependable as far as his ability to go out there and run the line and get the speed out of the car. I’m excited about his future next year. I’m going to be there with him and that team. That team means an incredible amount to me. There are so many folks on that team that I have strong relationships with. I want to be a part of that going forward and continue to help Alex in whatever way he needs. I’m excited to see what he can accomplish next year. It’s a great match and a good fit.”
Q: RICK, DALE ENTERED THE SEASON UNSURE ABOUT WHETHER HE WAS GOING TO SIGN AN EXTENSION AND NEEDED SOME TIME TO MAKE THE DECISION. WHEN HE DID, AND IT TURNED TO WHAT WAS THE FUTURE OF THE 88 CAR, THE PROCESS LEADING UP TO THIS WEEK, WAS THAT A VERY COMPLICATED PROCESS FOR YOU? DID IT GO IN MANY DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS OR WAS ALEX IN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS FROM THE START?
RICK HENDRICK: I didn’t want to see Dale tell me he was going to want to retire, but we had Alex in the back of our mind for whatever opportunity we had. It wasn’t much of a decision at all. Alex was the guy.
Q: RICK, YOU SAID ALEX SIGNED A CONTRACT LAST YEAR. CAN YOU SAY HOW LONG THAT CONTRACT IS, AND CAN YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON THE 5 CAR AS FAR AS A SPONSOR OR A DRIVER FOR NEXT YEAR?
RICK HENDRICK: He signed a deal last year. That was a three-year deal, so it would’ve been 16, 17, 18 (MODERATOR: To clarify on the contract, it is for 2017, 2018 and 2019).
Q: JIM, CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY A ONE-YEAR EXTENSION INSTEAD OF A MULTI-YEAR EXTENSION.
JIM MCCOY: We approach all of our sponsorship in a pretty rigid measurement, on how things are going. We’ve had great success and strong ROI with what we’ve done with Hendrick Motorsports, which is why we’ve been in renewal conversations since December and pivoted, obviously, to Alex. We evaluate all of our sponsorships annually to see how we’re doing, how we’re measuring up both on the racetrack and the success there, but also the bigger partnership we have with Mr. Hendrick and his businesses from the business side. We’ll evaluate that and hope to continue the successes we’ve built up to this point in time.
Q: RICK, THERE’S A LOT OF TALK LOOKING AHEAD WITH THIS TEAM. THERE’S A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT FOUR CARS OR THREE CARS NEXT YEAR. ARE YOU STILL COMMITTED TO FOUR CARS AT THIS POINT?
RICK HENDRICK: The plan is to run four cars next year.
Q: WHAT DOES A PERSON LIKE ALEX OR SOME OF THE OTHER YOUNG DRIVERS BRING TO THE TRACK TO ATTRACT FANS LIKE YOU GUYS HAVE DONE? WHAT KIND OF PERSONALITY DO THEY HAVE?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I can say I have a lot of confidence in the youth. Drivers like Alex, once you get to know him, he’s pretty opinionated. He’s got a great personality. He’s prevalent on social media - that’s going to be a key component for all the youth coming into the sport is to be really interactive with the fans in all kinds of different platforms. Social media is a great avenue for that. Social media is a great way to begin showcasing who you are. Winning does help, but I think what sells to the fans is being able to relate to the individuals. You got to know Jeff Gordon. You either related with him somehow or you related with someone else. You connected with these drivers on a personal level. The only way to really do that is for that driver to be able to expose himself, be open and be genuine. That’s really key for these guys. The fact that they grew up in a world where social media was already around and a big component of everyday life is probably going to push NASCAR into the next level. All the guys my age, we had to learn how to use social media. I was obviously really apprehensive going into that, but I understand now what an incredible tool it is for interacting with the fans and how much our industry really utilizes that. It’s important for me to be a part of that. These guys are already plugged in. They grew up in that environment. So, I just implore Alex or any young guy to do everything you can to give fans an opportunity to get to know you off the track.
MODERATOR: ALEX, I’D SAY YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA TO DRAW IN THOSE YOUNGER FANS
ALEX BOWMAN: I had to teach Dale how to use GIFs correctly. He gets his talent from me. It’s really cool, and that’s a big part of what I was trying to get across earlier. I grew up, I’m a regular guy. I come from working in a body shop as a kid doing prep work for my dad’s paint shop. It’s really cool working with Axalta because of that, having a relationship with Nationwide since 2013. I’m just a regular person. I feel like we’ve done this the old-school way a little bit. I came from driving lower-budget cars, and somehow, I’ve been blessed enough to make it work. Follow me on social media, I obviously do the best job I can without getting into trouble and I have a lot of fun.
Q: RICK, ALL OF THE FANS I’VE HEARD ON THE RADIO LOVE ALEX BOWMAN. THEY’RE HAPPY IN GENERAL THAT YOU MADE THAT DECISION. BUT WHAT STANDS OUT IS THE FANS THAT SAY DREAMS REALLY CAN COME TRUE IN THE BIG BUSINESS OF NASCAR. I’D LIKE FOR YOU TO TALK ABOUT MAKING A BIG BUSINESS DECISION, WHERE A KID LIKE ALEX BOWMAN CAN MAKE IT HERE IN NASCAR
RICK HENDRICK: I go back to the very beginning with me. I thought I was going to start with Richard Petty, and that was a dream come true for me, and the deal didn’t happen. I remember Geoff Bodine coming into my office. I told him I had a contract being offered to Tim Richmond. I said ‘I’ll know by 4 o’clock this afternoon.’ This was in the morning. He said, ‘I’ll just sit here in the showroom and wait.’ That made me want to give him the opportunity because he wanted it. I think about Alex like a Jimmie Johnson or a Jeff Gordon. I get excited about seeing the guys have an opportunity. Dale has done an unbelievable job of that - bringing guys along. We’ve worked with partners. I try to get input from all of our guys, but it’s fun to see someone that’s worked so hard. I think the word for Alex is, he deserved it. That’s what I’ve heard a lot of the fans say, he deserves a shot. He stepped into the most pressure point. I don’t think there’d be a situation on pit road that has the pressure of sitting in Dale Earnhardt’s car, with all of the media around. And to perform like he did, sit on the pole in Phoenix and almost win the race. And the contribution he’s made to our company to help our guys - he’s helping our guys that go to the simulator, guys like Dale and Jimmie. What he’s done, and again, Dale has an unbelievable eye for talent. He told me the story he told about Alex and the XFINITY car. When everybody in the company agrees from the crew chiefs to the drivers to the sponsors, then we put our shoulders together and it’s going to work. It’s exciting for me.
Q: DALE, YOU INHERITED TREMENDOUS PRESSURE WHEN YOU INHERITED YOUR DAD’S FANS. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ALEX ABOUT THE PRESSURE HE MIGHT FEEL INHERITING YOUR FANS.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: The easiest thing to do is be yourself and realize you’re not going to make everyone happy. You just have to believe in what you believe in and follow your gut. It’s pretty simple - try not to let the doubters or people who aren’t quite bought in or sold on what’s going on really affect you personally and affect how you feel. He has to believe in himself like he has all these years. He’s continued to bet on himself time and time again. He just has to keep going forward with that attitude. Once they get to know him or he starts to win races, everything else takes care of itself. I feel confident he’s going to have great success in the car, but until that time, keep your nose on the grindstone and keep working.
Q: ALEX, I KNOW YOU’RE BUSY WITH THE RESPONSIBILITIES AT TEAM HENDRICK DURING THE RACE WEEK, BUT IS THERE A CHANCE YOU’LL GET INTO A RACECAR BEFORE THE END OF THE SEASON TO GET INTO A RHYTHM?
ALEX BOWMAN: We’ve started talking about trying to get me into an XFINITY car before the year is over, but we’ve started talking. There’s nothing set in stone. It would be in the XFINITY series. We have to wait and see. I’d love to get back in a racecar, but it has to be the right opportunity. Aside from that, I’m just focused on being ready for Daytona in 2018, trying to get my fitness level up, trying to be the best racecar driver I can be when I show up at Daytona for Speedweeks.
Q: HAS DALE ASKED YOU TO GO BIKE RIDING WITH HIM?
ALEX BOWMAN: He’s introduced me to this weird Spandex stuff, going bike riding. It’s a little bit different. I feel like I’ve gone from the Tony Stewart plan to the Jimmie Johnson plan in a hurry. It was a big 180. It’s been a lot of fun. He’s still faster than me on the bike, which drives me crazy, but it’s been a lot of fun.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: One of the interesting things about the new Hendrick fitness program is all the drivers are required to play along, even the simulator drivers.
Q: RICK, WHEN ALEX SIGNED THIS CONTRACT LAST OCTOBER, WAS THE DECISION EFFECTIVELY MADE THEN, THAT IF DALE DIDN’T DRIVE IN 2018, HE WAS GOING TO BE THE DRIVER? THERE’S SOME OTHER OPTIONS THAT HAVE COME UP RECENTLY, SUCH AS MATT KENSETH, OR OTHER VETERANS THAT MIGHT BE OUT THERE. WERE YOU COMMITTED TO ALEX FROM THAT POINT, AND DIDN’T CONSIDER A PERSON LIKE KENSETH WHO MIGHT BE ON THE MARKET.
RICK HENDRICK: We didn’t know what was going to happen. We were very, very careful not to guarantee anything other than if opportunities arose, then he would have a shot. I can’t make all the decisions. The sponsors have to be involved. In my mind, Alex was going to get the next up.
Q: DID YOU LOOK AT MATT AT ALL?
RICK HENDRICK: I love Matt Kenseth. I love him. He’s a tremendous talent. In the past, he and I have talked about how sometimes things just don’t line up at the right time.
Q: GOING ALONG THROUGH THIS PROCESS, YOU’RE VERY PATIENT, BUT DID YOU THINK IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND ‘I’M GOING TO GET A RIDE IF IT OPENS UP,’ OR WERE YOU JUST HOPING THAT WAS THE CASE? DID YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF ASSURANCES?
ALEX BOWMAN: No. There was nothing set in stone. It was a big leap of faith. I said no to a lot of solid opportunities that I really appreciated getting. Hendrick Motorsports is where I’ve always wanted to be. I was a big Jeff Gordon fan as a kid. Driving for Hendrick Motorsports is what I wanted to do my entire life. To get the opportunity to stay this year in whatever capacity, I was very happy to take that. I didn’t know what was going to happen from there. I knew that, given the right chances, I could go and win races. But I’ve always said I didn’t want to go back to running 35th every week. I kind of took a chance with it, and I’m very glad it all worked out. It was very nerve-wracking at times. I’m thankful to be able to represent great people line Nationwide and Axalta. We got to go to Columbus (Ohio) last week. That was really cool to see everything they do there. We got to go to the children’s hospital. We can’t thank people like that enough. My life’s been a whirlwind the last year and a half or so. So, it’s really cool to be sitting here in front of you guys.
Q: WHAT’S THE PLAN FOR WILLIAM BYRON? IS THERE A SCENARIO WHERE HE COULD BE IN ONE OF YOUR CARS FULL-TIME NEXT SEASON?
RICK HENDRICK: He’s definitely going to be in the XFINITY car. We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.
Q: YOU CAME INTO THE SPORT AT RELATIVELY THE SAME TIME AS TONY STEWART AND MATT KENSETH. YOU FORMED A CORPS OF DRIVERS WHO RACED EACH OTHER PRETTY HARD. DO YOU SEE DRIVERS SUCH AS ALEX, WILLIAM BYRON IN A COUPLE OF YEARS, AND ALREADY KYLE LARSON AS FORMING THAT GROUP OF THE THREE ROOKIES, THE THREE YOUNG GUYS FROM WHEN YOU SHOWED UP?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Absolutely. Larson’s established. Fans are plugging into him and getting excited about what he’s been able to accomplish and his future. You’ve got Chase (Elliott) with his heritage and history with a great team at HMS. He’s going to be around for a very long time. All these guys, (Ryan) Blaney and everybody else. All these guys, they’re trying to find their place, find their niche in where they belong in the sport and what they mean to the sport, how they can be an asset to the sport. Alex, coming in his first season, he’s going to be thinking, ‘how can I establish myself? How do I create this opportunity and turn it into something very long-term for me?’ He’s going to be focused on that instead of everything else. We were talking about him renting a motor home or buying one. He can think about all those things down the road once he feels confident in what he’s been able to achieve and whether he feels like he’s got some roots here. That’s all up to him, whether he feels like he’s established some roots. We want to give him as much support so he feels confident and he feels at ease when he’s at the racetrack and feels like he can go out there and compete. There’s a whole new generation that’s coming in and flooding the sport. For so long, there was only a guy or two coming in every year or every other year, but now, there’s a bunch of guys coming in with a lot of talent, a lot of personality and a lot of potential for the sport to really maximize the exposure for these guys. They really need to take advantage of it.
RICK HENDRICK: It’s amazing to me. Time goes by in a hurry. It seems that not too long ago, Jimmie Johnson or Jeff or Chase was sitting here. There’s a lot, as Dale said, a tremendous amount of young talent and the fans are already latching onto them. I’m seeing the guys coming into our place with the T-shirts on that are already supporting some of these guys. I think the sport is in excellent shape for years and years to come.
ALEX, LIFE IS ABOUT FULL-CIRCLE MOMENT. HAS THIS OPPORTUNITY ENCLOSED THAT CIRCLE?
ALEX BOWMAN: “I don’t know. I think getting a win would kind of close things up for me and just make me feel better about things. Phoenix is something that’s bothered me every day since then. There’s probably not five minute that go by that I don’t think about that. So I kind of want to get that monkey off my back a little bit. But it’s been a roller coaster the last couple years. It’s incredible to me to end up where I’m at, and very thankful for it. But I think we need to win some races before it’s full circle.”
MODERATOR: Jim, Mr. Hendrick, Alex, Dale, thank you for the time, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
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