Jeff Gordon: ‘I look forward to the challenge’ of Sunday’s race at Indy


INDIANAPOLIS – Spoiler alert: Jeff Gordon knows what will happen in Sunday’s Brickyard 400, his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race since November.

“I’m going to be sore when the race is over,’’ he said Saturday after qualifying 21st.

Not what you expected?

That’s the thing. No one is quite sure what to expect when Gordon cranks the engine of the No. 88 Chevrolet that Dale Earnhardt Jr. normally drives. Gordon is in the car this weekend and next as Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms.

While some expect Gordon to show the same form that led to a victory late last season at Martinsville and a championship bid in Miami in November, there are many questions for a driver who has not raced this season.

“My expectations are very realistic,’’ said the four-time champion. “I’m approaching this the same way I’ve approached any race I’ve ever been in. I drive the car into the corner and the car gives me feedback. If it feels good, I drive it harder. If it doesn’t feel good, I find a way to manage it until we can make adjustments, or I can make an adjustment from inside the car with the track bar.

“Hey, this is a steep learning curve to be off the track this long and just jump in here. Luckily, I have a great race car and a great race team that is going to help me get through it.’’

Gordon has talked this week about how much work he’s had to do since ending his French vacation early for his substitute role. He’s been with the team, talked extensively with crew chief Greg Ives and engineers, spent time in a simulator and studied notes from a recent Indy test.

A key to making his car better throughout Sunday’s race will be how well he communicates what he needs to Ives.

“For me, for the most part, the work is done, other than me thinking about some things I can tell Greg and the engineers,’’ Gordon said. “The work all begins when the green flag drops.’’

When it does, temperatures will be in the 90s, meaning it will be well over 100 degrees in the car. How will Gordon handle the heat after not experiencing that this season?

“I’m not in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I’m not in the shape that I was last November, but handling heat has never been an issue for me,’’ Gordon said. “It’s the muscle fatigue that is going be the big thing for me. I’ll be working hard to do all the recovery stuff that I can do and I’m going to be sore when the race is over. I just want to be sore after a really good result.’’

He knows getting there might not be easy.

“We’ve got some work to do,’’ he said, “and I look forward to the challenge.’’

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.