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Alex Bowman looking at Michigan as another chance to shine

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 - Practice

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 26: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Axalta/University of Michigan Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 26, 2016 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

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Alex Bowman will be the first to admit while the circumstances are not ideal, he’s going to try to make the most of his opportunity driving the No. 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr., for the second time in the past six races.

“Obviously, I’m more than happy to fill in whenever I can,” Bowman said at Michigan International Speedway.

Bowman is back in the car this weekend after getting the call from Hendrick Motorsports last month to race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Earnhardt initially was sidelined with a concussion. He’ll make his second start in the Pure Michigan 400 from the sixth starting position, a career best for the 23-year-old.

Overachieving has been the theme for Bowman in his short stint with the No. 88 and crew chief Greg Ives.

After being fired by Tommy Baldwin Racing in January, Bowman has been driving part time for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series while working two days a week in the simulation department at Hendrick. But when he’s behind the wheel, Bowman has shown immediate speed and the skill to contend, which he did at New Hampshire. He ran in the top 15 for much of the race before being relegated to a 26th because of a flat tire.

His Michigan qualifying effort drew the immediate attention of Earnhardt, who tweeted how proud he was. When it comes to the 200-lap race, the expectation for Bowman is to replicate his New Hampshire performance. In 72 Sprint Cup starts, Bowman’s career-best finish on a non-restrictor plate track is a pair of 20th-place finishes last season at Bristol and Dover.

“Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and Chevy have been so welcoming and easy to work with,” Bowman said. “It’s just been fun. Off the truck, we were really fast and didn’t get the qualifying run speed that we really wanted, but I feel like we have a good shot at it this weekend. It’s just so much fun to be able to come to a Cup race and be able to say that. I’m just really enjoying it and trying to make the most out of it.”

Bowman’s status with the No. 88 after Michigan, however, is yet to be determined. He’ll still have his Xfinity ride and job at Hendrick, but his chance to continue to shine in the Cup Series is on a week-by-week basis. Earnhardt already has been ruled out for next weekend’s race at Darlington Raceway, but Jeff Gordon will make his fifth start in the car there.

So all Bowman can do is continue to wish for Earnhardt’s return while being grateful he got the chance to remind everyone he is ready, willing and able to get the job done.

“As far as going forward, we haven’t discussed that at all,” Bowman said. “I’m happy to fill in when needed; Jeff is going to be in the car in Darlington. Hopefully, we’ll just have to see Dale’s timeline, but I’m definitely happy to get in the car whenever needed.”

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