Johnson: Test driver Bowman deserves Earnhardt's 2018 NASCAR seat

Hendrick Motorsports should seriously consider its test driver Alex Bowman as the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr's 2018 replacement, says NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson

Johnson: Test driver Bowman deserves Earnhardt's 2018 NASCAR seat

Bowman shared stand-in duties with Jeff Gordon when a concussion-related illness sidelined Earnhardt during 2016.

Johnson believes Bowman proved he could handle the seat full-time.

"How he came in and stepped in seamlessly, he was really impressive for me," Johnson said.

"He handled the pressure. Won a pole. Was up there duking it out for some race wins.

"He had a heated moment or two with some of the veterans and wasn't rattled.

"He did an amazing job. We all watched him evolve.

"I think he would be a great fit for that car from a wide variety of angles."

Bowman was contesting occasional Xfinity Series races for Earnhardt's JR team when he got the Hendrick opportunity last year, having previously driven for Cup midfielders BK and Tommy Baldwin Racing.

"It's such a challenging time because if you don't take that step, you might not ever end up in a Cup car, but you go and drive for a lower level team and unfortunately people's opinion of you can change," said Johnson.

"I think that stigma was kind of there for a while and he had the chance to reset the deck when he came in and drove the #88."

Johnson praised the work 24-year-old Bowman is now doing for Hendrick behind the scenes.

"He knows our system," Johnson said.

"We are counting on him so much with the simulator information that he does, with the wheel force transducer car that he's driving.

"The start of our data originates with him in the car.

"We've put a lot on him now."

The 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth has been linked with Hendrick after losing his Joe Gibbs Racing seat to Kyle Busch protege Erik Jones.

"Matt's availability will have to be considered," Johnson acknowledged.

"I don't think he'll be left out in the cold. Matt is just too good.

"The guy can win races and he can win championships. That won't be overlooked."

Asked about his chances of Earnhardt's Hendrick seat, Kenseth told SiriusXM Radio: "I don't feel like that's an opportunity I'm going to have."

Hendrick protege William Byron, currently second in the Xfinity standings, has been tipped as a longer-term option, but Johnson feels 2018 would be too soon for the 19-year-old to move into the Cup series.

"At his age, I don't want to be in too big a hurry to move him up," said Johnson.

"It just takes time. I feel so lucky that I didn't get my Cup start until I was 25. I just think I was in a better place."

Johnson added that team owner Rick Hendrick had yet to ask him for his thoughts on Earnhardt's replacement.

"We're getting to the point in time where we need to make decisions," Johnson said.

"I know Rick has a lot of pressure, but I haven't been engaged in all of that yet."

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