Alex Bowman completes test at North Wilkesboro for return this weekend at Charlotte

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - APRIL 08: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, enters his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 08, 2023 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that Alex Bowman has been given medical clearance to return to competition in the NASCAR Cup Series and will be back in the No. 48 Chevrolet starting this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowman missed the last four races with a fractured vertebra suffered in a sprint-car crash on 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.

In order to gauge his readiness for racing the team got permission from NASCAR to hold a test session which happened Tuesday as Bowman tested a Cup Series car at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, the site of last weekend’s All-Star Race.

During a media session at Darlington Bowman said the biggest source of pain with his back injury 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 will start Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 making his return in the Cup Series’ longest race. Xfinity Series regular Josh Berry, who has filled in for the No. 48 team for the last four weeks, could be used as a relief driver should Bowman need one. Berry is listed on the preliminary entry list as the No. 48 Chevy’s driver of record but entry lists can be changed prior to the weekend.

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.”

Greg Engle