A week ago, the NASCAR world was stunned when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that he was sitting out racing at New Hampshire because he was suffering from concussion-like symptoms. At the time, Alex Bowman was tabbed to run that weekend. Bowman has ran select races for the JR Motorsports program in the Xfinity Series, the team that Earnhardt Jr. owns.
However, the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization were going to wait until more testing was to be done before any plans were put into the near future.
Wednesday, Earnhardt Jr, his team of doctors and Hendrick Motorsports officials revealed that per doctor orders, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet was to sit out at least another two weeks. Symptoms had not cleared up for him to be considered ready to race. So, Hendrick officials needed a substitute driver to be at the wheel of Junior’s car for a few weeks while he recovered.
Luckily for Hendrick, they knew exactly who to turn to.
For Sunday’s event at Indianapolis, along with the following week at Pocono, it will be Jeff Gordon, who called the 2015 season his final full-time season behind the wheel, returning to driving duty. He will serve as the substitute in the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS in the Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400, and then in the following week’s Pennsylvania 400.
“Jeff’s a team player,” owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement provided by the team. “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.”
Earnhardt Jr. said in his Monday podcast that he was experiencing dizziness and nausea leading into New Hampshire, and originally felt that it was sinuses. However his neurologist determined there was a lot more happening than what he suspected. As for his timetable to return to the wheel, Earnhardt Jr. said there is none. NASCAR has a concussion protocol that was instituted in 2013, one season after Junior opted to skip two of the Chase races because of similar symptoms.
The protocol requires NASCAR to be informed by an independent board-certified neurologist with at minimum five years experience, to clear a driver for competition following a concussion. Earnhardt was evaluated on Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, and will likely return to be evaluated once again after the two-week hiatus.
Gordon has a great history at Indianapolis, with five victories at the Brickyard, including the inaugural event in 1994. His last win at the famed speedway came in 2014.
Sunday’s action at Indianapolis will go green shortly after 2:30 p.m. At the end of the event, the most unique tradition in NASCAR will take place when the winner and team will kneel at the “Yard of Bricks” by the start/finish line, and plant their lips on the original bricks from when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was first built.