Jeff Gordon finishes 7th, keeps Sprint Cup points lead going into Easter break

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After taking the Sprint Cup points lead for the first time since the 2009 season following a second place finish at Texas, Jeff Gordon was among 12 leaders in Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway before going on to take seventh.

It wasn’t what Gordon was hoping for, but it will enable him to keep the championship edge through the Easter holiday.

When NASCAR returns to action in two weeks at Richmond International Raceway, Gordon will enter “The Action Track” with a slim, one-point lead over Matt Kenseth, who finished fourth and also had a brief spell at the front on Saturday.

Then again, everyone’s turn at the front was brief compared to that of race winner Kevin Harvick, who led 238 laps en route to his first career win at Darlington.

Going back to Gordon, he figured that for a time, he had a car more than capable of matching Harvick’s.

“I thought we were a little bit better than him on certain runs,” he told Fox Sports. “But there towards the end, we kind of started fading. I got into the wall a little bit and got the right side flattened up a little bit.

“From there, our night went downhill. We just made some mistakes and got behind. We were the last car on two tires [going into the final restart] and we just got ate up on those restarts. But…It’s not bad to come home seventh. I thought it was going to be worse than that.”

Gordon quickly moved from ninth on the grid and passed Joey Logano for the lead on Lap 38, two laps before Ryan Truex crashed to trigger the yellow.

But on the restart at Lap 47, Gordon was unable to hold back Harvick and Kyle Busch, who both got ahead of him before the field reached Turn 2. However, he would re-claim second from Busch just a few laps later.

From there, Gordon would hover around the Top 5 for the majority of the race, running second at multiple points. He briefly mentioned a possible overheating issue with around 80 to go, but said issue did not evolve into something serious.

Gordon was second to Harvick with 50 laps remaining, but after what proved to be the final cycle of green-flag stops, he had fallen back to fifth. He’d claw to fourth after taking two tires during a caution with 10 laps to go, but was unable to hold serve on the late rash of restarts.

“I feel like it was a missed opportunity, but we had another great race car and I’m happy about that,” Gordon said.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.