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

2 Comments

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 viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

0 Comments

Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

0 Comments

Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

0 Comments

Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

0 Comments

A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).