Bowman cleared to return to race

NASCAR officials confirmed Wednesday that Alex Bowman has been given medical clearance to return to competition, and his Hendrick Motorsports team indicated he will make his Cup Series comeback this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowman has missed the last four races with a fractured vertebra, suffered in a sprint-car crash April 25. He provided an update on his recovery May 14 at Darlington Raceway, saying he had no firm timetable then for a possible return. Team owner Rick Hendrick said the same day that Charlotte was a potential target for Bowman to be back with the No. 48 Chevrolet team.

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Bowman’s Hendrick Motorsports team asked for the opportunity to gauge their driver’s readiness in a special test session. NASCAR officials granted that request as part of their medical evaluation, and Bowman drove a Cup Series car on Tuesday at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway — the site of last weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race.

Bowman said at Darlington he anticipated that the biggest source of pain with his back injuries in competition would come from tightening his seat belts, plus any jarring motions or impact — such as on-track bumps or the car dropping off the jack during pit stops. Tuesday’s test was meant to address those concerns, and the team indicated Bowman drove 170 laps without reporting pain.

NASCAR competition officials also approved the team’s request for a medical waiver for Bowman to retain his eligibility for the Cup Series Playoffs. He is 17th in the Cup Series standings, just five points outside the cutoff mark for the provisional postseason field of 16.

Bowman’s plan to start Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM) means he will return in the Cup Series’ longest race. Xfinity Series regular Josh Berry has filled in for the No. 48 team for the last four weeks, and he would be a logical choice for a relief driver if Bowman needs one on standby. He was listed on the preliminary entry list as the No. 48 Chevy’s driver of record.

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The 32-year-old Berry has been a sub for Hendrick Motorsports in two stints so far this season. He made five starts in the team’s No. 9 Chevrolet of Chase Elliott, who sat out earlier this year with leg injuries from a snowboarding mishap. The JR Motorsports driver’s four starts in the No. 48 included last weekend’s non-points All-Star event, where Berry won the All-Star Open to qualify for the main event.

“Josh is an absolute pro,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. “His talent and hard work allowed the team to continue operating at a high level while Alex recovered. We can‘t say enough about the great job he did under some challenging circumstances. We‘re grateful to Josh and our partners at JRM for their support.”

Bowman led the Cup Series standings for three weeks earlier this 2023 season, with top-10 finishes in six of the first seven races. He has yet to win this year, but has two pole positions (Daytona, Richmond).

“It‘s a boost for all of us to have Alex return to the No. 48 car this weekend at our home track,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in the organization’s statement. “The team is still 17th in points, which says a lot about how well he performed at the start of the year. Alex has worked hard to rehab the injury and come back strong, and I look for him to continue having a championship-caliber season.”