By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer
After retiring from the cockpit in 2015, four-time series Champion Jeff Gordon will return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the next two events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Gordon will be filling-in for his former teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms that also caused him to sit out this past weekend at New Hampshire.
“I know there’s probably a lot of speculation about what type of injury or symptoms I’m dealing with,” said Earnhardt on his weekly podcast. “The symptoms that I have are balance and nausea. I’ve struggled with my balance over the last 4-5 days, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to drive a race car this weekend. Making the right decision really was out of the question; I made the decision I had to make.”
In returning to the drivers seat, Gordon gets another shot running at the Brickyard 400, where he holds the record with five wins. Having been raised in nearby Pittsboro, IN, Gordon considers the Brickyard 400 as his home race. Additionally, Gordon also owns six wins at Pocono Raceway.
“Jeff’s a team player,” said team-owner Rick Hendrick. “I know he’ll be ready, and I know Dale has incredible trust in him. It’s going to be an emotional weekend 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.
Alex Bowman, who runs a part time schedule with Earnhardt’s Xfinity team, took the wheel of the No. 88 car at New Hampshire and ran comfortably in the top ten until late-race issues relegated him to an eventual 26th finishing position.
As part of his treatment, Earnhardt took the ImPACT test (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) and the results matched his baseline (non-concussed) result, which is a positive sign.
“I’m going to continue to work with my doctors to understand more about the injury and how to treat it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “They can give me a lot of exercises that will retrain my brain to handle what I need to handle. It’s just going to take a lot of patience. I put my health and quality of life as a top priority. I’ll always do that. 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.”
“Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover,” added Rick Hendrick. “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.”
There is no definitive timeline on Dale Earnhardt Jr’s return to racing, but he thanked everyone for their support.
“I’ve got a lot of good people around me, a lot of people supporting me,” Earnhardt said. “Hope we can get back to the track soon. Until then, we’ll try to keep you updated on the progress.”