Hendrick official: If Dale Earnhardt Jr. can’t race at Indy, Jeff Gordon will drive No. 88

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Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement and drive the No. 88 car next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not medically cleared to race, Doug Duchardt, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports said Friday.

Gordon, who retired after last season, is not available to drive for Earnhardt this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because he is in France with his wife.

“When Dale is ready, it’s his car to get back into, but if Dale can’t go next week, Jeff Gordon will be the driver at Indianapolis,” Duchardt said.

Gordon has won the Brickyard 400 a record five times.

Duchardt said that the team would probably need to know by Wednesday if Earnhardt can race next week at Indy. He did not state who might drive Earnhardt’s car beyond Indianapolis if Earnhardt is not cleared.

Earnhardt is not racing this weekend at New Hampshire  because of “concussion-like symptoms.” He said in a statement Thursday that he did not feel well last weekend at Kentucky but thought it was allergies or a sinus infection.

Earnhardt notified Duchardt and crew chief Greg Ives on Tuesday that he still wasn’t feeling well and to make contingency plans for a backup driver. The team had Alex Bowman come into the shop to be fitted for a seat but Earnhardt still planned to race. It wasn’t until about noon Thursday, Duchardt said, that the team found out that Earnhardt would be out, putting Bowman into the seat for the weekend.

Earnhardt said in his statement Thursday that because of his symptoms, his history with concussions and recent wrecks at Michigan and Daytona, he met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation, Earnhardt was told it would be best if he didn’t race this weekend.

“Nothing was said to us after Michigan or Daytona, so we didn’t know of anything until he started talking to Greg about not feeling quite right at Kentucky,” Duchardt said. “Tuesday was the first time he talked to me.

“I could tell that when he called me Tuesday, it was a tough conversation because I know for him, as much as he is doing the right thing and he knows he’s trying to do the right thing for himself, I know he feels bad for letting Greg and the team down but that’s just natural. That’s how any of us would feel.”

Duchardt also praised NASCAR’s Chase format and waiver system for allowing drivers to get out of the car when they don’t feel well.

“Before the Chase, missing a race basically meant you weren’t going to get a championship,” Duchardt said. “Now, NASCAR’s system has allowed you to take a step back if you’re not feeling well or something happened in an incident on the track, and then you can come and hopefully apply for a waiver when the time is right and hopefully still have a potential of moving forward.”

Duchardt said that per doctor’s order Earnhardt is “lying low like most people in these situations with minimum stimulation.”

No timetable has been set for Earnhardt’s return.

“I’m not going to speculate on Dale’s future,” Duchardt said. “The most important thing is for this process to play out for him to feel better. At the end of all of that, what is the right thing to do that will become clear when more knowledge is gained on how he’s feeling.”

A NASCAR official noted Friday that the series requires drivers to submit to a baseline neurocognitive assessment, such as an imPACT test to be licensed to compete. That allows doctors to monitor a driver’s recovery. For a competitor returning from a concussion or concussion-like symptoms, NASCAR must receive a notice from an independent board certified neurologist who has a minimum of five years in experience treating sports-related head injuries before the driver can again compete.

NASCAR has yet to meet with Earnhardt, who is now in the sport’s concussion protocol.

Earnhardt is 14th on the Chase grid and will drop after this weekend. The top 11 spots are taken by drivers with wins. Austin Dillon is one point behind Earnhardt. Jamie McMurray sits in the final transfer spot and enters the weekend 22 points behind Earnhardt. The team plans to seek a waiver, which will allow Earnhardt to be eligible for the Chase even though he will not have started every race.

This is the second time Earnhardt has missed races due to concussion symptoms. He missed two races during the 2012 Chase after crashes at Kansas (during a test) and Talladega within six weeks. Earnhardt also later admitted he raced with a concussion for about three months after a heavy impact April 28, 2002 at Auto Club Speedway. He was airlifted out of Dover International Speedway in September 2003 after briefly losing consciousness in a wreck but there was no concussion diagnosis.

Kurt Busch wins Las Vegas Cup race in overtime

Kurt Busch
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After entering the Round of 12 last in the playoff standings, Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his first win of the season and advancing him into the Round of 8.

Busch held off Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin to also claim his first Cup win at his home track.

The top five was completed by Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

The two-lap dash was caused by a incident involving William Byron, Christopher Bell and Corey LaJoie with seven laps to go. Bell cut a tire from contact with the wall and as he slowed Byron ran into the back of his car before going into a spin.

LaJoie received damage as he tried to avoid the incident.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joey Logano finished 14th after he had to pit on Lap 91 to fix a left rear tire rub, a result of contact with Kyle Busch following Denny Hamlin’s three-wide pass for the lead on Lap 88Tyler Reddick finished 38th after he tagged the wall late in Stage 2 and went to the garage ending his day … After finishing sixth in the first two stages, Austin Dillon finished 32nd after an overheating problem forced him to pit road for repairs with 50 laps to go.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m. ET Oct. 4 on NBC

Check back for more

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.