In one of the least surprising headlines of the 2017 season so far, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the no. 88 Nationwide/Axalta Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, announced his retirement at the end of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. The announcement as to who would replace Earnhardt in the car has not occurred. Earnhardt, Jr will retire after 19 seasons in NASCAR, gaining 26 wins and right now, no championships. These can easily change.
To say the least, this is going to cause another drastic shift in fan bases. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for the last 14 consecutive seasons. No matter his status of being in the races or not, Jr. has earned the fans respect. Every time Dale Earnhardt, Jr. takes the lead at a race, the crowd booms in excitement. Not a single driver other than Junior gets that kind of respect. We will soon see what happens with these fans and whether or not they stay with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the 88 car.
As for who would replace Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports car, there are a ton of rumors and various options. The conspiracy theory that exists is that Carl Edwards would come out of his retirement in favor of joining Hendrick Motorsports next year. Why this seems to be a persistent rumor is baffling, because Edwards seemed legitimate in calling it quits after the season. I do not think Joe Gibbs Racing would have agreed to promote Daniel Suarez unless Edwards was legitimate.
Alex Bowman seems to be the number one nominee for a good replacement. He was a good part-time replacement of Earnhardt during his abbreviated 2016 season. There is no reason to complain if they put Bowman in the 88. He has been sitting around in the Hendrick Motorsports simulator, producing information for their drivers. Bowman participated in the Advanced Auto Parts Clash at Daytona in February, but that is it. He does not even have a ride in the NASCAR Xfinity Series or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Sad to say, but that is the business.
3 PM EDT that will answer a lot of our questions about the future of the 88 team.