Jeff Gordon Potentially to Replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Brickyard 400

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2016

Jeff Gordon, left, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., talk outside the garage during practice for the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Associated Press

Legendary NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon could make a brief return from retirement on July 24 at the Brickyard 400 if Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't medically cleared for action. 

Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com received confirmation of the backup plan from Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt on Friday. Duchardt stated a final decision about who will be behind the wheel of the No. 88 car is expected by Wednesday.

"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. "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 the 2015 season and maintained throughout his farewell tour he didn't plan on making any one-off appearances. Mark Glendenning of Autosport passed along comments from the superstar in May 2015 about that possibility: "But it really, truly is [the end]. And as I get further into the year, and as things start to come together, I don't see myself doing any races. If I do a race, it would be a Martinsville; a short track."

This is a unique situation, though. Earnhardt is going to miss this week's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of concussion-like symptoms, per NASCAR.com. It leaves his status up in the air for next week, with Alex Bowman filling the void this Sunday.

Pockrass pointed out that along with Gordon's work with Fox Sports, he's also an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, so there's an obvious connection.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a perfect place for a return, because is it one of the most storied tracks on the motorsports circuit. Not only that, but he also enjoyed a lot of success there, winning five times in 22 starts with an average finish inside the top 10.

It could end up being a moot point if Earnhardt is cleared to return by the middle of next week. Head injuries have become a hot-button topic across the sports spectrum in recent years, however, and it's difficult to know exactly how long it will take for the fan favorite to recover.

Getting to see Gordon for another race would be an unexpected treat for those making the journey to Indianapolis. He finished third in the final standings last season, showing he can still compete at a high level.

         


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