Still recovering from concussions suffered earlier this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss at least the next two races at Indianapolis and Pocono. His replacement will be four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who is coming out of retirement to race in the pair of events, according to Hendrick Motorsports.
“Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “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 Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, according to Hendrick. After dealing with balance and nausea issues, Junior simply made the wisest decision for his health.
“I put my health and quality of life as a top priority, and I’ll always do that,” Earnhardt said on his weekly podcast. “So I’m going to take this slow and strictly follow the advice of my doctors, and try to learn as much as I can to be smarter and wiser. It’s always been a real experience going through this kind of stuff because you learn so much through the experience.”
Gordon returns to the cockpit at a track he dominated over the course of his career, winning a NASCAR-record five times at Indianapolis. He also happens to have six victories at the Tricky Triangle, along with a third-place finish at the track last August.
Jeff Gordon, all-time Sprint Cup wins leader at Indy (5) and Pocono (6), will drive the No. 88 car at those tracks. pic.twitter.com/gh3qyAbSlb
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 20, 2016
“Jeff’s a team player,” Hendrick said. “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. Greg (Ives) and the team did a great job at New Hampshire, and they have the full support of our organization.”
It will be a return for a hometown hero as Gordon makes his way back to Indy, but it will be far from a normal situation. He’ll still have that Hendrick power under the hood, but watching Gordon pass (or get passed?) by the No. 24 car will be a strange situation for the future Hall of Fame driver.