Retired driver Jeff Gordon will return to the racetrack at next week’s Brickyard 400 if Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t recover from his concussion-like symptoms.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday morning that Gordon would take the place behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 24 if Earnhardt’s symptoms continue to linger and cause him to sit out a second consecutive race.
Earnhardt is being replaced by Alex Bowman for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H. Earnhardt experienced concussion-like symptoms following crashes at Michigan on June 12 and Daytona on July 2. He raced last Saturday night in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway but the symptoms persisted after the race.
— Alex Bowman (@AlexBRacing) July 15, 2016
Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt said a decision likely would be made by Wednesday to determine whether Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, replaces Earnhardt.
“He’s a four-time champion with 93 wins — he’s not a bad person to think about to get in the car,” Duchardt said of Gordon. “This week, he’s in France. … If Dale is not able to go at Indianapolis, we’ll put Jeff Gordon in the car. When Dale is ready, it’s his car to get back into.”
Gordon retired after last season following a 23-year career with 93 wins in 797 starts. Gordon, an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, worked the first half of the season for FOX Sports as a race analyst.
Gordon has run in every Brickyard race since the inaugural event in 1994, winning a record five times in 1994, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2014.
Earnhardt missed two races in 2012 for concussion-related issues after a wreck at Talladega Superspeedway. A timetable for his return is still unknown.
“I wasn’t feeling great the week going into Kentucky (Speedway) and thought it was possibly severe allergies,” Earnhardt said in a statement Thursday. “I saw a family doctor and was given medication for allergies and a sinus infection. When that didn’t help, I decided to dig a little deeper. Because of my symptoms and my history with concussions, and after my recent wrecks at Michigan and Daytona, I reached out and met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation, they felt it was best for me to sit out.
“I’m disappointed about missing New Hampshire this weekend. I’m looking forward to treatment with the goal of getting back in the race car when the doctors say I’m ready.”
I appreciate everyone’s support and prayers and will miss my team terribly this weekend. I’m working with some great doctors to get well.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 15, 2016
Earnhardt currently sits 13th in the points standings with eight races left in NASCAR’s regular season. He has yet to win a race this season.
Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said he was glad Earnhardt admitted he was experiencing problems and sought medical attention.
“I’m proud of Dale for standing up,” Hendrick said. “The No. 1 priority is his health, so we’re going to give him all the time he needs. We completely support the decision by the doctors and will be ready to go win races when he’s 100 percent. In the meantime, we have full confidence in (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the team, and we know they’ll do a great job.”