Jeff Gordon Named as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Injury Replacement for Next 2 Races

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 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

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the shelf because of concussion-like symptoms, Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to drive the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway over the next two weeks.

According to ESPN.com's Bob Pockrass, Hendrick Motorsports released a statement confirming the move.

Earnhardt missed last week's race at New Hampshire, and Alex Bowman replaced him. There is no timetable for Earnhardt's return to action.

He had the following to say regarding his health on the Dale Jr. Download podcast (h/t Gray Caldwell of the official Hendrick Motorsports website): "It's just going to take a lot of patience and putting my health and quality of life as a top priority. I'll always do that, so 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."

Gordon is a five-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is considered his home track. He also has six Pocono victories to his credit.

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick expects a positive result out of Gordon at the Brickyard 400 because of his track record, but he knows the future Hall of Famer has to get back into the swing of things, per Caldwell.

"I think Jeff will do well," Hendrick said. "He's won that race a lot of times. He's been out of the car this year. I expect if he gets in the car, he might be a little bit rusty, but we've got a lot of practice time and I don't think it'll take Gordon long to get back in the groove."

The 44-year-old Gordon has transitioned to the broadcast booth for Fox Sports this year, but he finished third in the Sprint Cup standings in 2015, is a four-time Sprint Cup champion and has 93 career Sprint Cup wins.

Since Earnhardt has not started every race this year, he will need to receive a waiver from NASCAR to be eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It is likely he will receive one, as champion Kyle Busch did in 2015.

His spot in the Chase is tenuous, however, as he is 15th in points and without a win. When factoring Tony Stewart's victory into the equation, Earnhardt technically holds the final Chase spot by just 14 points over Trevor Bayne.

There is perhaps no better option than Gordon to hold down the fort while Earnhardt is healing. And while that likely ensures the No. 88 team will remain competitive without Earnhardt over the next couple of weeks, he will have plenty of work to do in qualifying for the Chase when and if he returns.

   

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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