Gordon to Fill in for Earnhardt Jr. at Indy and Pocono

Photo Credit: David Yeazell

Jeff Gordon will be making his return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Gordon will be behind the wheel of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No.88 Chevrolet for at least the next two Sprint Cup Series races as Earnhardt is recovering from concussion like symptoms. Gordon competed in 797 consecutive Sprint Cup Series races to go along with 93 wins and four series championships (95,97,98,01) from 1992 to 2015.

Although he hasn’t been in a race yet this season, Gordon has been to races as part of the NASCAR on FOX broadcasts with Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip.

“I think Jeff will do well,” team owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday when talking about the possibility of Gordon’s return. “He’s won that race a lot of times.

“He’s been out of the car this year. I expect if he gets in the car, he might be a little bit rusty, but we’ve got a lot of practice time and I don’t think it’ll take Gordon long to get back in the groove.”

How long Gordon remains in the No.88 has yet to be determined. All depends on Earnhardt’s health on a week to week basis.

“Jeff’s a team player,” Hendrick said Wednesday Morning. “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.”

Earnhardt said, in a recording he made Sunday night for his weekly podcast released Monday, that he was battling balance and nausea. It is possible the concussion symptoms are the result of crashes June 12 at Michigan and July 2 at Daytona. His ImPACT test, a cognitive examination that among other things tests memory and reaction time, showed results equal to his most recent baseline test, Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt missed two races in 2012 because of two concussions in a six week span. “[My doctors] can give me a lot of exercises that retrain my brain to handle what I need to handle — it’s just going to take a lot of patience,” Earnhardt said. “I take my health and quality of life as a top priority. … I am going to take this slow and strictly take the advice of my doctors.”

“Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover,” Hendrick said in the Wednesday news release. “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.”

Earnhardt underwent further evaluation yesterday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Hendrick Motorsports said he will not travel to Indianapolis or Pocono.

Earnhardt will likely fall out of 16th in the chase standings as he currently holds a 14 point edge over Trevor Bayne for the final playoff spot.

Gordon’s longtime sponsor Axalta formerly DuPont will serve as primary sponsor for the No.88 car this weekend at the Brickyard.