Get to know Alex Bowman, the Daytona 500 pole winner and Junior's replacement

Alex Bowman is off to a hot start in the lead-up to the 2018 NASCAR season after being tasked with following in the footsteps of Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's 15-time Most Popular Driver and a seven-time Daytona pole winner. On Sunday, the 24-year-old Bowman channeled his inner Earnhardt, driving the No. 88 to his own first career pole.

"I think it's still a little surreal," Bowman told the Associated Press. "It's a dream come true just to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. I never would have thought it would happen after the path my career took."

Bowman sat out the entire 2017 season to help develop Hendrick Motorsports racing simulator. His lap at 195.644 mph was only a few ticks faster than Denny Hamlin, who will be joining Bowman on the front row for the 60th running of the Great American Race. His sharp qualifying time was even enough to draw praise from his predecessor.

"We knew we were going for the pole, that's what we're here to do," Bowman told the AP. "I was a little nervous for that second round, but we took off well on pit road and did everything I could do. This really come down to the crew, everybody works so hard."

Just because Bowman sat out 2017 doesn't mean he isn't experienced. The Tuscon, Arizona native has 81 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts to stand on, including plenty in the No. 88. Bowman filled in for Earnhardt during the 2016 season as an interim replacement when Junior went down with a season-ending concussion. 

Bowman did get some action in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last season, suiting up just twice. One of those starts resulted in his first career NASCAR National Series win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also made one Camping World Truck Series start and finished sixth. 

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