Alex Bowman proved to Dale Earnhardt Jr. he's ready to take his place next year.
In his first race in nearly a year, the Tucson native drove his No. 42 Chevrolet to his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a rain-delayed playoff elimination race.
Bowman will replace Earnhardt next year in the No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup series. Earnhardt is retiring after the season.
Bowman is not eligible for the Xfinity playoffs.
Justin Allgaier, William Byron, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Elliott Sadler, Brennan Poole, Matt Tifft and Ryan Reed advanced to the second round of the Xfinity Series playoffs. Brendan Gaughan, Michael Annett, Blake Koch and Jeremy Clements were eliminated.
Bowman hasn't had a ride this year, instead serving as a simulator driver for Hendrick Motorsports.
He had five top-five finishes in the Xfinity series entering the night and said it was a relief to get a breakthrough win.
"Trust me, I have heard plenty of people tell me I have never won any of the NASCAR races on the top three levels," Bowman said. "It definitely gave me a mental stamp of approval that I can do it. ... Hopefully, it puts some of the people who are talking to rest because we are going into 2018 to win a lot of races in that 88 car."
He said he felt a little rusty in the car not having raced since Homestead. But that went away as the race progressed.