The wait is over.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet in 2018.
Bowman, 24, filled in during 10 of the final 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races last year as Earnhardt was sidelined with a concussion. He earned three top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway after starting from the pole.
He will carry sponsorship from Nationwide - Earnhardt's primary sponsor - for 19 races next year. Axalta Coating Systems will pick up 15.
"Ever since I was a kid, racing is all I’ve wanted to do,” Bowman said in a release. “I’ve had so many people believe in me along the way. My family has sacrificed a lot and always been behind me. I would never have this chance without the support of Dale and everyone involved with the No. 88 team. To be part of Hendrick Motorsports and for Mr. Hendrick to have this confidence in me, it’s just amazing.
“The No. 88 team is such a great group of people. I know we can pick up where we left off last year, and I truly believe we can win races and contend for a championship. I’m excited to build on the relationship with Nationwide and all of our partners. It means the world that they have faith in me, and I’m thankful to have them on my side. Now I just want to go win.”
Bowman signed with Hendrick Motorsports on Oct. 6, 2016, and this season has been heavily involved in the simulation and on-track testing program.
“Alex impressed the heck out of us last year with his talent, poise and professionalism,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a release. “He stepped up in a very demanding situation and showed that he can run with the best and compete for wins. His ability to stay focused through it all, and the way he’s handled himself since then, has shown a lot of character. Greg and the team loved working with Alex, and that dynamic will get even better with more time together."
In an interview with USA TODAY Sports on July 6, Earnhardt talked about his replacement and who he'd like to see in the car.
While rumors swirled that William Byron, who has two wins as a rookie in NASCAR's mid-tier Xfinity Series driving for JR Motorsports, the team co-owned by Earnhardt, would get promoted, Earnhardt said: "Most drivers need about two years in the Xfinity Series. Even though William is going great, I think a couple solid years in the Xfinity Series is a great foundation for any driver coming up."
Bowman - like Chase Elliott before him - will have big shoes to fill at Hendrick.
Elliott took over for four-time champion Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 last year. While he still hasn't won a Cup Series race, the pressure is mounting as the son of NASCAR champion Bill Elliott tries to find victory lane.
Bowman is taking over a ride from NASCAR's beloved son. Earnhardt has been named most popular driver 14 times running and is a two-time Daytona 500 winner. After the death of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., in the 2001 Daytona 500, many fans flocked to Earnhardt Jr. to carry the mantle of the seven-time champion.
While Junior Nation has watched Earnhardt evolve into a spokesman for the sport and for improved safety - he announced last year before he was diagnosed with another concussion that he would donate his brain to science for further study of the effects of hard hits - he has fallen short of winning a title.
In April, he announced this would be his final full-time year in Cup, but he said he would run a couple of Xfinity races in 2018 and hasn't ruled out a Cup race here or there.
Heather Tucker, USA Today Sports