Jeff Gordon explains how rest of replacement schedule was set for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride

Terry Renna/Associated Press
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DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jeff Gordon had a “Welcome to Darlington Raceway” moment in Southern 500 practice Saturday, but this wasn’t the rude awakening the track has delivered to many NASCAR newcomers.

For the seven-time winner at the 1.366-mile oval (twice as many victories as any active driver), this was more surreal daydream than shock to the system.

“I had something happen to me today that’s never happened in my whole career,” Gordon said with a smile after the final Sprint Cup practice. “I’m out there running laps, and I had a moment where I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m out here at Darlington. What in the world am I doing here at Darlington?’

“But it was a cool moment. I was excited about it. So things are going well. I’m having fun here.”

Sunday’s race will mark the fifth for Gordon (who was 14th fastest in both rescheduled practices Saturday) in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out for the rest of the season while recovering from a concussion. Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday the No. 88 Chevrolet will be split for the final 12 races between Alex Bowman and Gordon.

The four-time series champion will race Earnhardt’s car in the next two races at Darlington and Richmond International Raceway before turning the car over to Bowman for eight of the last 10 races. Gordon will race again at Dover International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway – tracks where he has combined for 14 victories.

Though the schedule lines up well with his strengths, Gordon said it wasn’t solely set by his preference. Bowman will race New Hampshire Motor Speedway because he already filled in for Earnhardt there in July. Because of schedule conflicts, Gordon can’t race at some 1.5-mile tracks, so it made more sense to keep Bowman at all of them.

“It’d be best for the team for him to be in all of those,” Gordon said. “We know he’s a talented driver, too, and want to see what he’s capable of doing. He does a lot of work in the simulator for us. Matching up actual race data and conditions to the simulator helps us develop the simulator, too.”

Making the schedule was a collaborative effort involving input from multiple sources.

“It’s a combination of what’s best for the team, what’s best for the sponsors and sort of Junior’s wishes as well,” Gordon said. “He’s big on Alex Bowman, and the team has really enjoyed having him in the car. We want to make sure our sponsors are getting everything out of it as well. They do a lot for us.

“So if I can help them on or off the track, or Junior do the same thing when he’s not in the car. And then Alex, the same thing. Everyone has enjoyed having him in the car. I was just happy to do whatever they wanted me to do, but when we knew this was coming, we sat down and looked at the tracks and thought about what was best for everybody.”

Earnhardt’s misfortune will give Gordon a chance to defend his Nov. 1, 2015 victory at Martinsville that seemed the last of his career after his 2015 retirement.

“When you leave there as a winner, you kind of don’t want to mess that up, but it’s also a track that I like a lot, and I feel confident at,” he said. “Depending on how this all goes with owner points, I’m hoping that we can be in a similar position to what we were last year from an owners point standpoint and go do something special there.”

Earnhardt’s car currently is eligible for the owners championship in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. If the car qualifies and advances to the third round, a repeat win at Martinsville would advance the car to the championship.

Gordon is a nine-time winner at the 0.526-mile oval, which he had singled out for potential one-off starts in retirement.

Could he win?

“I don’t see why we couldn’t,” he said. “It’s not about aerodynamics as much. I think our power is really good. We won there last year, and I don’t think a lot has changed other than less spoiler and splitter.

“The question is were we the best car there at that time? (Joey) Logano was pretty good. I felt I had something for him on the long run, but we didn’t know. So to me, I think we’ve got to be a little better than we were last year if we’re going to win this year.”

That would be a boost to a No. 88 crew that has weathered uncertainty for nearly two months.

“This team cares about Junior so much,” Gordon said. “They love him. They want him back. They’re handling it amazing. They really are.

“They’re in a really tough situation because not only is Junior not coming back this year, but they’ve got two different drivers they’ve got to work with, but they’ve handled it amazing. Their demeanor and attitude about it has been phenomenal. It’s really been a great experience for me, because I’ve spent so much time with the No. 24 team over the last 23 years, that going into the shop of the (Nos.) 48-88 guys, spending time with (crew chief) Greg (Ives), it’s been great for my new role at Hendrick. It’s allowed me to bond with those guys as well as the bond I have with my guys and see kind of how the teams work separately and together.”


NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.