What drivers are saying about Jeff Gordon’s comeback . . . and whether he can win Indy


INDIANAPOLIS – There are the freshly flashing lights of the digital dash, unfamiliar voices on the team radio, and the strangeness of a No. 88 stall instead of a No. 24.

But aside from everything that will seem new for Jeff Gordon about ending an eighth-month retirement this weekend, there is one comforting element.

“I knew it was Indianapolis,” he said Friday morning. “I felt like if there was one place that I was capable of doing it, it would be here.”

Gordon will start the next two races in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms.

Though it will have been more than 230 days since he raced a Sprint Cup car, the four-time series champion has a record five victories at the Brickyard, starting with NASCAR’s inaugural visit in 1994.

How will he fare and what will be his biggest challenges? Here’s what his peers have said about their expectations for Gordon’s return:

Kevin Harvick: “Obviously, he’s Jeff Gordon, so he’s probably going to do better than most. I think as you look at the competitiveness of everyone on a week-to-week basis. It’s really hard to get to that level of getting the last couple of tenths out of the car and being on top of your game. And with the new dash. I think it’s really hard to gather all those little things. I think he’ll be able to drive the car and do the things he needs to do. But to go fast, it’s all the little things that you think about on a daily basis that we do week after week that will be the hardest. But driving it won’t be a problem.

“I think he definitely can be competitive for sure. I think the first thing he’s going to figure out is the cars are a lot hotter than they used to be.”

Ryan Newman: “I would have to say the (toughest) thing that comes to mind would be people. I mean they have a lot of good people obviously at Hendrick Motorsports but just working with the personalities that he has only seen from the outside, so to speak. He has worked with (crew chief) Greg Ives. He has worked with those guys he knows a lot of people on the team, but now they are responsible for him, and he is responsible for them. I think that when it comes to making strategy calls, trying to miss the cone when you are committing to pit road on those types of situations when it’s last second, that past experience pays a lot.  You’ve got to get the inflection of somebody’s voice is all it takes sometimes to make you own the answers or make you own decisions.  I think that with a big race like this, with different strategies and fuel mileage that something as simple as that could be one of the biggest hurdles so to speak.

““He has the best stats of anybody or as good of stats as anybody here at this racetrack as far as top-five’s and top 10’s. I think that he is driving the same equipment. It’s not like he’s in somebody else’s race car. He knows what he’s driving, he knows the people he is driving for, so I don’t see any reason why he is not one of the guys to beat. I mean he has always been that guy here and has more wins than anybody. I don’t know that it matters a whole lot that it’s the No. 88 vs. the No. 24. I think it’s no different than it was last year.

“Just getting a feel for the car and the tire (will be the most difficult part). He has experienced this rule package last year. It’s not like it is totally different to him but just getting a good feel and balance for the car is what we all try to do. He probably has that feel better than most with his stats, but it doesn’t mean it comes easy.”

Kyle Busch: “It takes you a few weeks to get back into the rhythm of things and into the game of things. It did for me. I missed 11 weeks last year, and it took probably about four or five weeks to kind of get back into the rhythm of things and figuring it all out and just getting focused on becoming a race car driver again. The heat is certainly going to be a huge thing probably for Jeff (Gordon). Again, just not being conditioned for the heat and used to the heat of what it’s been, and we’ve had a couple of hot races already this year. We definitely get more experience at that and more opportunities to feel that each week that we’re in it.

“He could (win). He could surprise us all. He could win, but realistically I feel like top-10 for sure. I feel like he could be pretty good enough to just kind of jump back in and be ready to finish to top-10 right away. I feel like top-five is probably what’s expected maybe, but getting a win, that’s high expectations.”

Jimmie Johnson: “I guess the people part (is the biggest challenge). He has so many laps in a race car, and so many laps here, The (digital) dash, they can move it and change it out however they would like. Once the excitement of being on the track the first time goes away, and the butterflies subside, he’ll be out there and do just fine. I don’t see it being difficult for him. Sure, maybe a little rusty when he gets started, but once he gets in the flow of things, his last interaction with a crew chief was Alan (Gustafson). I think it is really his first time working with Greg (Ives). So I think it is more people-related leading to what he ultimately wants which is to win here. I think he is going to have a great experience. He is going to be fast, and competitive. All of that. But to really find that last little bit, I think is more in relationships and building those relationships in a hurry.”

Tony Stewart: “Nothing for him. I say that because he can handle all of this. The digital dash is a non-event for him. If we were at Bristol or Martinsville or something, it would be a little tougher, but you have long straightaways here. He’s been in the simulator. He has the information. He knows where it is at on the dash now, and he has plenty of time on each straightaway to find what he is looking for. It won’t be any problem for him. I can promise you getting back in a car will be like he never got out of a car. He will be fine.”

NASCAR weekend schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series head to Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the 1.99-mile road course.

The Cup and Xfinity Series will take the following weekend off before the season resumes at Nashville Superspeedway. NBC and USA will broadcast each series the rest of the year, beginning at Nashville.

Sonoma Raceway

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 73 degrees. Forecast is for a high of 70 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Sunday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 67 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)

Saturday, June 10

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 11

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles; Fox, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 27th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.