They call it the Coke Zero 400. Hard core fans still call it the Firecracker 400. It’s the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. A name synonymous with Daytona is Earnhardt, and this year marks Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final go round at DIS as a full-time NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series contestant in the 88 car.
The occasion causes one to consider who “gets next.” Some logical names get tossed in such as Alex Bowman, and then there’s some slightly more far-fetched possibilities as Ryan Blaney or Kyle Larson. Is there really any mystery as to who will take over the 88 ride? One name stands out among the rest.
It’s William Byron. It’s crazy to think he’s mere months older than your truly’s oldest daughter. He’s a kid, for goodness sake! True as that may be, he doesn’t drive like one. There may be other forthcoming developments at Hendrick Motorsports to add to the intrigue, but Byron seems the most logical choice to take over the 88.
Think about this: Byron is just a year out of high school, and he already has eight victories combined between the truck and Xfinity Series. Coming off a nice win at Iowa- it’s hard to imagine the 19-year old NOT being on the fast track for the Cup Series. Even when he doesn’t win, William Byron is a contender, and his poise is remarkable. Throw on top of that the fact that he matriculates for JR Motorsports, he seems like a shoo in for the 88.
Of all the young guns, does not William Byron impress as “the real next Jeff Gordon?” If not Kyle Larson, it’s most certainly Byron. You know one thing for sure: Rick Hendrick is pondering the next step for him.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not to throw shade upon Alex Bowman, a solid sub for Earnhardt last season. You know there’s also much speculation another seat will open up at HMS. For no other reason than pure results, it’s hard to imagine Kasey Kahne will last much longer in the 5 car, barring a dramatic turn. It may well be time to grant Kahne a fresh start elsewhere, and therefore open yet another seat under the Hendrick umbrella. Under this scenario, it would make for a very young but potentially impressive stable for the New York Yankees of NASCAR. Wow, think about it, suddenly Jimmie Johnson is the old man at Hendrick.
Bowman seems solid, but for a high profile ride like the 88, it seems fitting to fill it with a driver who’s taken a place in the spotlight, and has handled it well. Alex Bowman could continue his steady growth in a slightly more low key scenario in the 5.
This fan could be completely wrong, and Hendrick does the opposite. It’s his sandbox. From here though, the dream scenario concocted here seems logical. Think about it: you have a seven-time champion in the 48, the promising young Chase Elliott in the 24, a promising Alex Bowman in the 5, and uber prospect William Byron in the 88.
You could make good arguments for otherwise, but I like it.