Hendrick Motorsports founder and owner Rick Hendrick said Tuesday he’s talking with his sponsors about who will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car for 2018 and beyond.
On Tuesday, Earnhardt announced he will retire following the conclusion of this season, immediately triggering speculation about who might replace him.
At a press conference at the team’s headquarters Tuesday afternoon, Hendrick kept his comments about his next driver brief.
“We’ve got a lot of people to consider, meaning partners, like our sponsors, and we’ve just been talking to them,” Hendrick said. “Priority one is to get everything prepared, get the day over with, and then we’ll take the time to decide what we do there.”
Hendrick Motorsports has a couple of talented young drivers under contract already.
William Byron is second in points in his rookie season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, where he drives for JR Motorsports, the team owned by Earnhardt and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller. JR Motorsports has a close working relationship with the Hendrick operation.
Amazing what @DaleJr has done for the sport and the impact he’s had on all of us. It’ll be cool to watch him finish out this year strong
— William Byron (@WilliamByron) April 25, 2017
Also under contract is Alex Bowman, who drove to the No. 88 in 10 races last year when Earnhardt was sidelined by a concussion. Bowman had one pole and a pair of top-10 finishes in the No. 88 in 2016.
Excited to see what the future holds for @DaleJr, think he will be just as captivating and influential off track as he was while on track.
— Alex Bowman (@AlexBRacing) April 25, 2017
“I think William Byron is the heir apparent to the next open seat at Hendrick Motorsports,” said FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer Mike Joy. “He has the talent and tools and demeanor, but does he right now have the experience to step into a front-line Cup car? I don’t know.
“Will they promote him right away or will there be an interim driver until Byron becomes a little more seasoned? I’d be surprised if that isn’t part of the current discussion within the organization.”
FOX NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds, on the other hand, thinks Bowman could be the new driver of the No. 88.
“My knee-jerk reaction today would be Alex Bowman to replace Dale Jr.,” said McReynolds. “He’s already been in that car and has had some success. He is young and can build upon his previous experience and success. I would hope the thought process isn’t William Byron because he will have only one full year of NASCAR XFINITY Series competition in the books and is only 19 years old. But who knows?”
And, of course, there will be plenty of rumored candidates from the outside.
“I will imagine that by (Wednesday) morning, everyone from Greg Biffle to Gray Gaulding will have their resume on Rick Hendrick’s desk,” said Joy.