After testing at North Wilkesboro, Alex Bowman made the judgment he was ready to return to action.
Bowman’s doctors concurred, and the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is back behind the wheel, starting with Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But Bowman knows the next few weeks in the NASCAR Cup Series car won’t be pain-free. The laps he ran at North Wilkesboro didn’t constitute the perfect preparation for Charlotte.
Bowman suffered a compression fracture of the spine in a sprint car accident Apr. 25 at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa, and he’s prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of occasional discomfort as the price of returning after a three-race absence.
“The doctor was like it’s healing, and you can do it based on pain tolerance, but you can’t simulate what it’s going to be like without getting in a race car,” Bowman said Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “And even that, you can’t simulate Charlotte at North Wilkesboro, so I don’t have a clue. It’s going to hurt. I don’t know how much it’s going to hurt.
“Hopefully, it doesn’t hurt very much, because at North Wilkesboro it didn’t. All we did was make long runs there to try and simulate being here and how long the 600 is. But we had two sets of tires, two hours and a flat race track that is really slick and doesn’t give you any G-forces. We have five-and-a-half hours (at Charlotte) with a ton of G-forces and a ton of grip, so it’s about as different as it could possibly get. But yeah, I think I’ll be all right.”
Jimmie Johnson: from seven-time champion to racing dilettante
Throughout his NASCAR Cup Series career, Jimmie Johnson expected to win. He did so 83 times and accumulated a record-tying seven championships in the process.
After his retirement from full-time Cup racing in 2020, Johnson spent two years in the IndyCar Series without threatening to win a race.
Now he’s back in the NASCAR garage as co-owner of Legacy Motor Club and an occasional driver in the Cup Series’ marquee events.
At the same time, Johnson is busy checking off bucket-list items in other forms of racing. Next up is the June 10-11 Centennial edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Johnson will team with Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button and reserve driver Jordan Taylor in the No. 24 Garage 56 entry, a collaborative effort between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, Goodyear and IMSA.
But first things first. Johnson is slated to drive in the Coca-Cola 600, and with practice and qualifying canceled, he’ll take to the track with no seat time in the Next Gen Cup at 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600—these are the marquee events. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I have to race this weekend.
“I feel about as ill-prepared for a race than I ever have in my life, though, with the threat of rain and not getting any seat time in a Next Gen car at this particular track. I ran a couple of hours out in Phoenix before the season started to get a feel for things, and that’s about the only oval experience, comparable oval experience, although it’s still pretty different.”
With the starting lineup set by metrics, Johnson was scheduled to start last (37th) in the Coke 600, a race he has won four times.
23XI Performance is a source of pride for Denny Hamlin
Admittedly, Kyle Larson drubbed the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field in last Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at reborn North Wilkesboro Speedway, but the performance of 23XI Racing wasn’t lost on team co-owner Denny Hamlin.
23XI’s drivers—Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick—finished second and third, respectively, in the $1-million-to-win exhibition race.
“It makes me feel good,” said Hamlin, who co-owns the team with NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. “It means our team is a high-level, elite team, and one that kind of carried the Toyota banner last week. It makes me feel good about it that they are taking the information and fitting it to their drivers, and the drivers are doing a good job.
“Bubba, especially, in this past year has taken huge strides, and Tyler has been a proven winner. He has continued to work on his craft to get better as well. It really says a lot about that whole team, and what they have been doing on the competition side to get better, working on the small details that make a difference each week.”