LONG POND, Pa. – Since Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s immediate future is in the hands of doctors, it’s appropriate that his substitute driver, Jeff Gordon, has also been brought in for a second opinion.
Not a medical opinion, mind you. But Gordon is invaluable in his role as a consultant for Hendrick Motorsports, and now that he’s behind the wheel of Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet, his opinions of the organization’s performance are all the more informed.
“I think what this is like for the team is getting a second opinion,” Gordon said on Friday at Pocono Raceway. “I think every driver out there sometimes would like to have a second opinion of their set-up or their car.
“To me, if I’m saying the same things that Dale is saying, if you are seeing the same results in qualifying, let’s say, then there are obviously some things that need to be worked on besides the driver behind the wheel.”
The four-time champion is filling in for Earnhardt for the second week in a row, having run 13th last week at Indianapolis. As Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms that have caused him to miss the last two races (with Alex Bowman subbing July 16 at New Hampshire), Gordon will compete in Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Tricky Triangle (on NBCSN at 1:30 p.m. ET).
Gordon is formally committed only through that race but says he’s prepared to do whatever is necessary for the Hendrick organization, which fielded cars for Gordon in 797 consecutive races before he exited the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last year.
Earnhardt’s status is uncertain, but the series’ most popular driver won’t get back in his car until he receives medical clearance to do so.
“We want to just keep going with how he is feeling,” Gordon said. “The doctors are evaluating. I’m not speculating anything at this time. I wouldn’t be here in Pocono if I wasn’t committed to be there for Hendrick Motorsports and this team in any way that they need me. I think there is a balance between trying to make this transition.
“First of all you want Dale to have the comfort of knowing that somebody is there for him. He doesn’t have to worry about that aspect of it through this process. Just get well at the pace that is the right pace to do it. So, nobody is putting any pressure or time frame on that. He may be putting that on himself more than anybody else.”
There are other considerations, too.
“There is the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points,” Gordon said. “And then there is the sponsorship side of it as well. So far, from what (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) is telling me, that seems to be me. That is why I was at Indy and that is why I’m here.”