By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The announcements just keeps on hitting left and right as three announcements have taken place in the world of NASCAR over the past 24 hours with plenty more to come.
Plenty positives, but some I’m simply skeptical due to the fact it has some implications, ranging from a specific driver to the status of one race team.
Here are some of my takeaways from each of those confirmations involving Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Hailie Deegan.
Bowman Succeeds Another NASCAR Icon
In a clever social media cryptic code, Hendrick Motorsports tweeted throughout Tuesday some hints about who’ll take over Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE next season.
The code was the first letter of every tweet which ended up saying: A.B.W.D.T.#Ally48.I.2021
Alex Bowman will drive the #Ally48 in 2021 was the code as the two-time NASCAR Cup Series winner will make the jump to the iconic No. 48 machine and he won’t be alone because crew chief Greg Ives will continue being on top of the box.
It’s the second time the Arizonan racer succeeds a legendary racer as he took over Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 Camaro after 2017, so he’s used to this kind of transition. Only this time, he’s taking over a ride that’s been raced by the seven-time series champion since 2001.
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) October 6, 2020
“When (Rick Hendrick) told me I was going to drive the 48, I was really excited,” said Bowman in a press release Tuesday. “To transition to the 48 is going to be a lot of fun. It’s an honor to get to take over for Jimmie Johnson, and Jimmie’s been a huge help to me and a great teammate over the last couple of years. It’s really cool to get to take over that car.”
This may be viewed by many as the safest route because Bowman has been super consistent, but what he has over Kyle Larson is a positive reputation and with such ride Johnson has proudly represented, HMS and Ally would want a clean image competitor. It doesn’t mean that Larson joining HMS is out of the question because the No. 88 team’s future is a mystery.
The team will announce at a later date what happens to the fourth HMS entry and also Johnson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels. My bet is that Daniels either becomes William Byron’s new crew chief as Chad Knaus moves into the role of VP of Competition after 2020 or perhaps be the general of the vacant Hendrick ride.
There’s also a fair chance the No. 88 team will be renumbered (5, 25 or even 57), so maybe later this week or this month at the latest, we’ll know what happens and it could be Larson’s return to NASCAR. It’s just a matter of Larson filing for reinstatement which hasn’t happened at this time.
First Two Interviews Join Forces
On a personal note, when the announcement was made Wednesday morning that Daniel Suarez will join Justin Marks’ new race team. I thought about my first on-assignment race for Motorsports Tribune which was at Sonoma two years ago.
That’s because those two guys were my first one-on-one interviews and never would’ve thought they’d join forces in 2021 which is why the headline exists.
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) October 7, 2020
Marks’ team will be powered by ECR Chevrolet engines and essentially takes over the remains of Germain Racing, who’ll close after this season. More importantly, the No. 99 team won’t have to worry about missing the Daytona 500 like Suarez had to go through this year with Gaunt Brothers Racing because they’ve obtained a charter.
“Daniel’s drive and hunger to get to the top of this sport is palpable every time I am in his presence,” Marks on Suarez. “We are building a team of winners and Daniel has delivered just about every time he’s sat in race winning equipment. It’s my job now to put a car underneath him that will carry him to the highest echelon of the sport.”
For once, Suarez will have some continuity in his Cup career as 2021 will mark the fourth time in as many years he’ll be running for a different team. This time around, it’s a multi-year gig which is what he desperately needs because jumping ride-to-ride can be annoying for a driver.
There will be some growing pains along the way, but Marks is no slouch and I’m confident this new squad will be just fine. I wouldn’t pen Team Trackhouse as another Spire, StarCom or Rick Ware Racing because this No. 99 team has amazing promise to fill the void Germain and even Leavine Family Racing will leave behind, maybe better.
Deegan’s Anticipated Truck Series Debut is Set
Hours after Team Trackhouse’s announcement, the much anticipated NASCAR national touring debut of Hailie Deegan was confirmed. She’ll be piloting the No. 17 DGR-Crosley Ford F-150 in next Saturday’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway.
Last month, there was some doubts the ARCA Menards Series rookie would even make a Truck Series start in 2020 due to lack of funding and while her 2021 plans isn’t set into stone quite yet, Deegan’s debut will certainly be something to watch.
At the same time, I’m skeptical because while the ARCA stats may say one thing, keep in mind that the field quality hasn’t been great. Her best finish is second twice at Daytona and Springfield, but it’s vital to watch the races in full to see why numbers can be deceiving.
Aside from I-44 and maybe the season opener at Daytona, Deegan has struggled to be on pace with title contenders Bret Holmes and Michael Self, and even part-time rising stars Ty Gibbs and Sam Mayer. I’ve felt all year that if you out right beat them, it’s a superb race in my book.
Is Deegan a hard worker? For sure. Is Deegan super aggressive? Absolutely.
This is going to be the biggest challenge of her racing career by trying those mean machines. Who knows? The polarizing 19-year-old may adapt to these trucks real well, but what I hope doesn’t happen is see her fall flat on her face like we’ve seen with Natalie Decker after running one full year in national ARCA.
My expectations for her is to get a top-15 finish and absorb as much information as possible because her first laps in NASCAR’s national level will be when the green flag drops. I appreciate her trying to make the jump without the benefit of practice and qualifying whatsoever, but you know how people will be — extremely critical.
Kansas is a track she has the most oval experience and will continue to do so with the ARCA finale next Friday, hoping to lock up Rookie of the Year honors.