While one star won’t be racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend and Pocono Raceway the next, another star will be stepping out of retirement to fill in.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who missed Loudon last weekend due to concussion-like symptoms, will again miss the Sprint Cup shows this weekend at Indy and the following week at Pocono. Filling in for the 13-time most popular driver will be Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports from 2008-2015 before Gordon retired at the end of last season.
Gordon, who spent the first 16 races of the season as a commentator for NASCAR on FOX, will drive a Sprint Cup car for the first time since the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last fall, a race he finished sixth in and cemented a third-place finish in the standings. It will be his first start in a Sprint Cup car other than the No. 24.
Gordon has five career wins at the Brickyard, his most recent coming in 2014, when he led 40 laps. His average finish at the track is 9.9, thanks in large part to 17 top 10s through 22 starts.
He also owns six wins at Pocono, part of 20 top 5s and 32 top 10s at the Tricky Triangle.
Rick Hendrick, team owner of the No. 88, did not announce a timetable for Earnhardt’s return to the track, stating that “Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover.” Earnhardt told fans earlier this week on a podcast that he is experiencing nausea and balance problems.
“Jeff’s a team player,” Hendrick said in a team release Wednesday morning. “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.”
Earnhardt currently sits 16th on the Chase Grid. After missing last week’s race at Loudon, he will need to apply for and be granted a Chase waiver in order to be eligible for the Chase should he win a race or qualify on points before the regular season ends at Richmond in September.