Jeff Gordon To Substitute For Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Next Two Sprint Cup Series Races

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Staff Report ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the next two Sprint Cup races, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday. Earnhardt Jr. is recovering from concussion-like symptoms, and has not yet been cleared by physicians to compete.

Gordon, who retired at the end of the of 2015 to enter the FOX NASCAR booth as an analyst, most recently raced in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he finished sixth in his bid for a fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. He ranks third in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history with 93 wins and also boasts 325 top fives, 475 top 10s and 81 poles. Gordon, who spent the majority of his childhood in Pittsboro, Indiana, claims five career victories at Indianapolis and six at Pocono – both track records. He last won at Indy – site of Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) – in 2015.

“Jeff’s a team player,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “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.”

Gordon was visiting France last week when he received the call from Hendrick asking him to fill in for Earnhardt if he wasn’t able to race. Alex Bowman took the reins of the No. 88 from Earnhardt at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend (finishing 26th) after Hendrick Motorsports announced last Thursday Earnhardt had been experiencing concussion-like symptoms and would sit out the race.

“I’ve struggled with my balance over the last four or five days, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to drive a race car [at New Hampshire],” Earnhardt said during his “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast. “So making the right decision (not to race) was out of the question. I made the decision I had to make. … It’s just going to take a lot of patience. I put my health and quality of life as a top priority, and I’ll always do that. I’m going to take this slow and strictly follow the advice of my doctors.”

Earnhardt visited the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program Tuesday for further evaluation.

“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 requires drivers to submit a baseline neurocognitive assessment such as an imPACT test, which is only one tool as a prerequisite for being licensed to compete. The mandate followed a comprehensive industry-wide education process launched by the sanctioning body in 2013. NASCAR has a medical advisory group consisting of a team of consulting physicians who work directly with the league on policy development while regularly meeting with drivers to continue the education process. A driver with concussion-like symptoms can only return to NASCAR competition after the sanctioning body receives a notice from an independent board-certified neurologist or neurosurgeon.

Gordon can earn owner points for the No. 88 Chevrolet, but cannot accumulate driver points for Earnhardt. At the moment, Earnhardt sits in the final spot on the Chase Grid, 14 points ahead of the cutoff line for NASCAR’s 10-race, four-round elimination playoffs. If he returns before the Chase, he will likely be out of the top 16 in points and could need a win to make it.

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