(NBC Sports) - Five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Sunday, 2 pm on NBCSN) and next weekend at Pocono Raceway for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday.
Earnhardt is out because of concussion-like symptoms. He said in a podcast released Monday that he had nausea and balance issues, and that his recovery is “just going to take a lot of patience.’’
Earnhardt underwent further evaluation Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
“Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement issued by the team. “There’s nothing we want more than to see him back in the race car, but we’ll continue to listen to the doctors and follow their lead. What’s best for Dale is what’s best for Hendrick Motorsports and everyone involved with the team. We’re all proud of him and looking forward to having him racing soon.”
By missing three races, Earnhardt likely will need to win an event to make the playoffs provided he returns before the Chase begins.
Earnhardt’s injury puts Gordon, who spent his teen years, in Pittsboro, Indiana — located about 15 miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway — in a Sprint Cup car for the first time since last year’s season finale in Miami.
This marks the first time in Gordon’s Sprint Cup career he will drive a car other than the No. 24. Sunday’s race marks his 798th career series start.
“Jeff’s a team player,” Hendrick said in a statement. “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.”
Gordon, who has 93 career wins, was a natural choice for Hendrick Motorsports, the sole Cup team he’s raced for in his career. He is a part owner of Jimmie Johnson’s car and has continued to work with the organization since vacating the driver’s seat.
The four-time series champion could not fill in for Earnhardt last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because he was in France. That race marked the first time since the 1979 Southern 500 that a Sprint Cup race did not feature a Gordon or an Earnhardt. Alex Bowman drove Earnhardt’s car in that race.
Gordon, 44, is the winningest NASCAR driver at Indianapolis with those five victories, including his most recent there in 2014. He finished 42nd in last year’s race after his car was damaged as he tried to avoid Clint Bowyer’s spinning car.
Gordon has finished in the top 10 in four of his past five Indy starts. His average finish of 9.9 ranks fourth among drivers entered in this week’s race, behind only Kyle Larson (8.0 average finish in two starts), Tony Stewart (9.7) and Kyle Busch (9.7).
Gordon has led a record 528 laps at the track. He has 12 top-five finishes and 17 top-10 results in 22 starts at Indianapolis.
Gordon also is the winningest driver at Pocono with six career victories at that track.
The last driver other than Earnhardt to win in the No. 88 car was NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett, who won Oct. 2, 2005 at Talladega for Robert Yates Racing.
The last substitute driver to win a Sprint Cup race was Jamie McMurray in 2002. He won the Oct. 13 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in his second career series start in place of an injured Sterling Marlin. Gordon finished fourth in that race.
Gordon joins an impressive list of drivers who have run the No. 88 in Cup, including Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Buck Baker, Rusty Wallace, Jarrett and 2017 inductee Benny Parsons.
Saturday, January 20 2018 6:08 PM EST2018-01-20 23:08:09 GMT
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