Jeff Gordon is not done after all.
The recently retired Hendrick Motorsports driver will compete for the first time this year Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. , who will be sidelined at least two more weeks due to concussion-like symptoms, according to a team release. Gordon will also sub for Earnhardt Jr. the following week at Pocono.
Earnhardt Jr. missed last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Alex Bowman piloted his No. 88 Chevrolet as a replacement, but Hendrick general manager Doug Duchardt revealed last week that Gordon would sub for Earnhardt at Indianapolis if needed.
Hendrick Motorsports said Wednesday morning that Earnhardt has not been cleared to resume competition. In addition to this weekend’s Sprint Cup event at Indianapolis, Gordon will also drive the No. 88 Chevrolet in the series’ event July 31 at Pocono Raceway.
Gordon retired at the end of the 2015 season and joined the FOX broadcast booth. Sunday will be his 798th Sprint Cup Series start, and his first in a number other than the 24 he made so iconic.
Gordon’s history at the Brickyard makes him a natural pick for Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM). The four-time series champion has a NASCAR-record five Indy wins, the most recent coming in 2014.
“Jeff’s a team player,” longtime car owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement provided by the team. “I know he’ll be ready, and I know Dale has incredible trust in him. It’s going to be an emotional weekend (at Indianapolis) with Dale not being there and seeing Jeff back behind the wheel. (Crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the team did a great job at New Hampshire, and they have the full support of our organization.”
Earnhardt was evaluated Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program after missing last weekend’s New Hampshire 301, according to a team release. On Monday, the 41-year-old driver provided an update on his condition during his “Dale Jr. Download” podcast, saying he had been struggling with balance and nausea in the days leading up to the New Hampshire event.
Earnhardt also said Monday that there was no firm timetable for his return. NASCAR officials indicated last weekend that the sanctioning body would require notice from an independent board-certified neurologist with at least five years’ experience in the field of sports-related head injuries before Earnhardt would be cleared to return to competition.
“Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover,” Hendrick said. “There’s nothing we want more than to see him back in the race car, but we’ll continue to listen to the doctors and follow their lead. What’s best for Dale is what’s best for Hendrick Motorsports and everyone involved with the team. We’re all proud of him and looking forward to having him racing soon.”
NASCAR has made neurocognitive testing mandatory for its drivers since 2013.
Earnhardt also missed time in the 2012 season after sustaining two concussions in a six-week stretch. Regan Smith replaced him for two races — Charlotte and Kansas — in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs that year.
After sitting out last weekend, Earnhardt slipped two spots to 15th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, also fading to the 16th and final spot in the provisional Chase postseason grid. The Hendrick organization indicated that Earnhardt will not travel with the team to either Indianapolis or Pocono.
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