One of the biggest stories of the 2016 NASCAR season will hit the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
With Dale Earnhardt, Jr. missing his second straight race due to concussion-like symptoms, it’s five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon who’ll return to the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since Homestead last November.
With only days to prepare for his shocker of a return, Gordon, who will make his 23rd start in the Brickyard 400 on Sunday, took to some simulator time on Thursday to knock the rust off.
“There’s certainly a lot of preparation that goes into every race and every season,” Gordon said Friday at Indy. “I’ve done everything I possibly could over the last three days to get ready for this race the best way I can.
“There are certainly going to be challenges this weekend but all of them I feel capable of doing.”
To join the challenge of getting back in the swing of driving racecars, Gordon found confidence from car owner Rick Hendrick and the No. 88 team.
“Rick and the whole team have given me confidence in myself by choosing me and asking me to go this,” he said.
“I questioned Mr. H several times when he was asking me on the phone about this.”
One of the cornerstones of a race team is the crew chief. For Greg Ives, who is in his second year with Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports, will crew chief Gordon for the first time on Sunday. However, it’s not their first time on the same team.
“The cool thing about Greg Ives is that he reminded me that he worked for Robbie Loomis when he was my crew chief,” said Gordon, who’s crew chief Loomis worked with him from 2000 to 2005. “Greg was telling some great stories about working with Robbie so I’ve know Greg for a long, long time. I’ve always been impressed with him but I’ve never had the opportunity to work with him.”
Difficulties of driving a racecar again? That’ll be covered in practice. Challenges of gelling with a new crew chief? They already know each other quite well. However, driving a number other than the No. 24 for the first time in 798 Cup starts? That may be a little odd at first for the four-time champion.
“The biggest thing is going to the No. 88 stall and not the No. 24 stall,” Gordon joked. “Twenty-three years going into the No. 24 stall.
“None of use anticipated this happening so you can’t plan; you don’t know how you’re going to react to it. Once I get in the car, I don’t know what’s on the outside of the car. It’s a racecar. But when I’m looking on the outside of it and looking at the No. 88 car with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the door, it’s a unique situation.”
With everything to the side, the goal for Gordon is simple: Bring home the best result possible on Sunday.
“My goal is to come here and give this team the best effort I can and get them the best result,” he said. I’m certainly overwhelmed with everything that has happened over the last week. Most of all, I’m proud to be able to be here and help [Earnhardt, Jr.’s] team out. This is his team.”
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