Hendrick confirms Jeff Gordon will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indy and Pocono

(Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon will step out of retirement and race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend. He will also race for Earnhardt in the race at Pocono the following week.

Hendrick Motorsports made the announcement Wednesday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to suffer concussion like symptoms and has not been medically cleared to compete in at least the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events as he continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. He will miss the races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 24) and Pocono Raceway (July 31).

Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt had revealed the information that Gordon would step in this week during a press conference at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Friday morning.

Earnhardt missed the New Hampshire race after he was evaluated in Charlotte last Thursday and was not cleared by physicians to race.  Alex Bowman was tapped to drive Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy and finished 26th.

NASCAR’s most popular driver has been diagnosed with at least three concussions during his racing career. He suffered a concussion at the Fontana race in April of 2002. He continued to race and didn’t reveal the injury until September.  He suffered two more concussions  in 2012 in a period of six-weeks: a hard crash during a tire test at Kansas Speedway, another big crash at Talladega Superspeedway. After the Talladega crash, Earnhardt went to a doctor for an evaluation. The doctor forced him to miss two races in October because of the injury.

Recently Earnhardt was involved in a multi-car crash at Daytona on July 2. In June Earnhardt crashed in the race at Michigan.  He failed to finish at Michigan, and struggled to a 21st place finish at Daytona.  Earnhardt wasn’t a factor the next Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, starting and finishing 13th.

The team said Earnhardt underwent further evaluation Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. The driver said this week on his “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast that he has been experiencing issues with balance and nausea. He will not travel to Indianapolis or Pocono.

“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.”

Gordon retired from his full-time driving career last season. Every one of his 93 victories and 797 starts came during his 23-year career with Hendrick Motorsports, which fields four cars including the No. 88 Chevrolet driven by Earnhardt. Gordon won the first Brickyard 400 in 1994.  Overall Gordon has five Brickyard wins the last coming just two years ago.

“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.”

Live coverage of the Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be on the NBC Sports Network starting at 2:30 p.m. ET, with the green coming out just after 3:00 p.m. ET.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.