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Hendrick driver Bowman unsure when he'll return from back injury

Crew members change tires for Alex Bowman during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Talladega, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Alex Bowman is unsure when he can return to the track after fracturing his vertebrae in a short-track accident last month.

The Hendrick Motorsports racer has missed the past three events, including Sunday's Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway. Bowman came to the track to reconnect with the team and gave an update on his health and what's ahead.

“Every day is a little different,” Bowman said. “I feel way better than I did two weeks ago.”

He'll return to the doctor Wednesday for more X-rays on the injury. Even with a good prognosis, Bowman doesn't know when he'll be back in the No. 48 Chevrolet again.

“We'll see how it's feeling and kind of go from there,” he said.

The initial diagnosis call was for Bowman to miss three to four races. He has six top-10 finishes in his 10 races so far.

Bowman is second Hendrick driver to miss time this season for an off-the-track activity. Past champion Chase Elliott missed six races this season after breaking his leg snowboarding. Elliott has run the past four races, his best finish a seventh place last week at Kansas.

Josh Berry has run eight races for Henrick, five for Elliott and the past three for Bowman. Berry finished 30th.

“I would like him to be right when he gets back in the car,” No. 48 owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday after Bowman's teammate William Byron won at Darlington.

“He's got to get in and out of the car, get the belts on him, see how he responds,” Hendrick said. “That's a terrible injury and if you come back too early, it can mess you up for the whole year.”

Bowman said the injury hurts most often when he coughs, sneezes or laughs, anything when his body's vibrations impact the injured area.

He returned to the gym for modified workouts last week. Bowman believes he could sit without too much discomfort in the car's driver's seat, but believes the jarring, up-and-down jack movements would be painful.

Bowman has hated missing races, but has no one to blame other than himself. “It's pretty self-inflicted,” he acknowledged on the steps of the No. 48 hauler. “It was my choice to go sprint-car racing and I knew what I was signing up for.”

Bowman wasn't sure what to expect from Hendrick Motorsports leadership, particularly after dealing with Elliott's snowboarding accident. But he said the team and his sponsors have been supportive of him since the accident.

Bowman, who was hurt on his 30th birthday last month, believes at some point, he'll go back to sprint-car racing, but is mindful that missing time in the Cup Series is not in his or his team's best interest. Bowman missed five NASCAR races in 2022 because of a concussion sustained in an accident last fall at Texas Motor Speedway.

Bowman is hopeful that once he’s given clearance to drive, he can keep himself in playoff position. He and his team are 15th in points in chasing a spot in the 16-driver playoffs. He’s watched racers such as Kyle Busch and others overcome in-season injuries to make the postseason.

Bowmen feels fortunate his injury was not more serious. He recalled the accident, remembering how he rolled several times before landing hard and hearing the crack of a back like a person might in a chiropractor's treatment.

“I don't think I'll ever go back to a chiropractor after hearing that sound,” he said. “Other than that, I've crashed a race car, I've done it before, I'll do it again.”

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