(Photo Source: Twitter.com/TKNews8)
It wasn't that long ago that we knew the #48 Chevrolet team and Victory Lane as synonymous. The Fox and NBC telecasts had talented announcers shouting the name of Jimmie Johnson at the end of their broadcasts on a regular basis. Among Johnson's history in the Cup Series, one of his greatest feats were his 83 wins, including 10 in the 2007 season.
In the first 908 starts, the #48 had only won 3 races, two with James Hylton and one with Bill Norton in 1951. Since then, #48 has won 84 times with Jimmie Johnson and now Alex Bowman.
The storied legacy of the 48 did start prior to Jimmie's on track success, though. Johnson's era started only 26 days after September 11th attacks on October 7th of 2001. 9/11 was dramatically and emotionally documented by every news, sports, and entertainment outlet 24 hours a day. Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouses, Chevrolet, and Hendrick Motorsports created 'The Power of Pride' campaign to help promote patriotism across the sport, and Jimmie got to drive the car.
The nation was somber. President George W. Bush referred to the incident as being attacked by '..a faceless coward.' Lowe's had been on the hood of Richard Childress Racing's #31 Chevrolet with driver Mike Skinner for 4 seasons and already had intentions of switching their marketing strategy with young Jimmie Johnson.
The #48 team ran as a part-time entry in the fall of 2001 at Charlotte, Homestead, and Atlanta. Lowe's finished the year with Robby Gordon behind the wheel of their #31 Chevrolet team, where he would win the last race of the 2001 season at New Hampshire. The New Hampshire race had been cancelled earlier in the fall in response to the attacks.
Hendrick Motorsports worked relentlessly to develop a new shop and team in the off-season of 2001/02, led by former mechanic and tire changer Chad Knaus. Knaus spent the 2001 season as crew chief of Stacy Compton's #14 Pontiac. The pairing of crew chief Chad Knaus and driver Jimmie Johnson were a magnetic connection. They claimed the pole for the Great-American race, the 2002 Daytona 500 in their first start.
A brotherly connection was made between Knaus and Johnson. They won their first race together in only their 10th attempt at Auto Club speedway. This became the start of a legacy of winning. With Johnson's articulate ability to drive tracks of every shape and size, Knaus' exceptional understanding of the NASCAR rulebook, and an engine program from Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet, they became the greatest tag-team in the history of American Motorsports. They won a Daytona 500, multiple World 600 events, and Brickyard 400 races, in addition to winning the All-Star and a record tying 7 Cup Series Championships. Their era is one that we may never see again.
When it was announced that Johnson would retire from full-time competition at the end of the 2020 season, many felt that the #48 team would suffer or perish. Johnson was moving along to a new career in open-wheeled racing. and Knaus had been promoted to an executive position within Hendrick Motorsports. It was well documented that Johnson had a hand in picking who would take over the #48, and the driver that was selected had experience replacing a previous NASCAR legend in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Arizona's Alex Bowman was transitioned from the #88 team to the #48 ALLY team in the 2020/21 off-season.
With the new ride, the historic #48 showed speed from day one. The keys to the car were now handed to Bowman, who along with crew chief Greg Ives repeated history. In February at Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying, they set the fast lap and put the #48 Chevrolet on pole for The Great-American Race. Living up to their expectations, they did one better than Johnson/Knaus...winning in only their 9th start as a team at Richmond in April of 2021.
It wouldn't be realistic for us to predict a career for Bowman that matches the many records of his successor in the #48, but his youth and talent will prove that he can create his own legacy while honoring the historic past of his car number.
The torch has been handed off for now, and we can expect many more wins for #48 in NASCAR's most elite series.