Alex Bowman to return for Charlotte crown jewel NASCAR race after fractured vertebra

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Charlotte Motor Speedway will be the site of a long-awaited return for one of NASCAR’s top drivers.

Alex Bowman, the Cup Series driver of the 48 car for Hendrick Motorsports, will compete in his first race since late April this weekend at the Coca Cola 600 on Sunday.

The 30-year-old driver has missed the past four race weekends after suffering a fractured vertebra in a sprint car race at a dirt track in Iowa, a few days after the Cup Series weekend at Talladega.

NASCAR has granted Bowman a waiver to remain championship eligible as he returns this weekend, per a release from Hendrick Motorsports.

Bowman told reporters in Darlington two weeks ago that his recovery had been going well. And then, earlier this week, Bowman ran 170 laps at North Wilkesboro Speedway and reported feeling good enough to return to racing this weekend at Charlotte.

“I’m excited to get back into the car,” Bowman told The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday. “Obviously testing this week was nice at North Wilkesboro. And hopefully it goes well. (The Coke 600) is a long race, so it’s pretty intimidating to go to a 600-mile race after not being able to really do anything for the last month. But definitely ready, excited for it, and glad to be back behind the wheel.”

Bowman said that he was medically cleared by his doctor this past week. He said that his fractured vertebra “is healing — I can’t hurt it anymore — but it’s not without pain.”

“Every now and then you do things that just don’t feel good,” Bowman said with a smile. “So I’m feeling way better than I did a month or so ago, and just excited to be back behind the wheel. Everybody that I’ve talked to said it will hurt for a long time into the future, but that’s just part of it.”

Bowman was in top form when he was forced to step away from competition. The driver was living up to his reputation of consistency — sitting ninth in the points standings at the time of his exit despite his team getting hit with a 60-point penalty earlier in the season.

He’s now 17th in the points standings with 270 points, five behind Chase Briscoe. The top 16 drivers make the Cup Series playoffs. (A win effectively locks in one’s spot in the playoffs, too.)

“The last month has been pretty rough, a lot happened, and it wasn’t much fun,” Bowman said. “So I think just being able to come back — and come back at home — hopefully will have a bunch of friends there and hopefully run well. Charlotte’s one of my best tracks. We’ve led a lot of laps there, and we hope to finish the job.”

Added Bowman with a smile: “We’re way closer in points than I ever would’ve thought we would be. And that’s with a 60-point penalty. So I think that just speaks to the season we were having before I got hurt, how strong we were. I’m confident we can (point) our way in, but for me, we gotta go win some races.”

Sunday will mark the second big return-from-injury for the Cup driver. Bowman suffered a concussion in a wreck at Texas Motor Speedway last season, an injury that forced him to miss five races last summer and effectively cut his 2022 playoff run short.

This weekend will also mark another special weekend for Bowman and Hendrick Motorsports as a whole. The driver as well as the entire 48 team — road crew and pit crew — was at the HMS Team Center on Wednesday morning, filling up boxes of care packages with volunteers to send to military members through the USO (United Service Organization, one of the nation’s leading organizations that serves the men and women in the U.S. military and their families).

“Obviously it’s a special weekend for us, with the name of (the late) Sgt. Nick Tomko on the car, I think it’s going to be very meaningful,” Bowman said. “Obviously it’s a great looking paint scheme, and it’s always a special weekend.”