LOUDON, N.H. – Rick Hendrick called a vacationing Jeff Gordon and asked if he would be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week. As luck would have it, the four-time NASCAR champion had a sponsor appearance around the Brickyard 400.
“I said bring your driver’s uniform just in case. He said, ‘Are you kidding?’’
The owner of Hendrick Motorsports wasn’t, of course. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of concussion symptoms, Gordon will be on standby to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet at Indianapolis – where he has won five times.
Hendrick is optimistic that Earnhardt could return after a one-race absence but said Gordon, who retired after 2015 to enter a career as a Fox Sports analyst, likely would be available beyond Indy.
“I would think so,” Hendrick said. “I haven’t talked to him about it. We’re just taking it a week at a time, and hopefully Dale will be back next week, and it’s not even something we think is going to happen.
“But if it does, I’m sure Jeff is a team player and wants to support the organization and will do whatever he has to do.”
Earnhardt must gain approval to return by a board-certified neurologist or neurosurgeon with at least five years of experience. NASCAR’s medial advisory team then would review the approval to clear Earnhardt.
Hendrick said Earnhardt, who thought he was suffering from a sinus infection before the diagnosis of concussion symptoms, has been feeling better.
“He’s running through a bunch of tests, and he’s going to have some more tests the first of the week,” Hendrick said. “He’s doing good. He wants to be in the car. The doctors are going to tell him when it’s OK for him to be back. And so, I know he’s anxious. We want him back as soon as the doctors give him clearance. … Dale is special to me when you take the driving part away, and I just want him to feel good when he gets back in the car. I don’t want him to push himself.”
Earnhardt also missed two races with concussion symptoms in October 2012. Hendrick said he isn’t concerned about the concussions curtailing Earnhardt’s career.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “He and I talked about years beyond next year. … if there was something major wrong, I think they would have seen it already. So, I’m very hopeful and he’s very hopeful. And I think the doctors want to err on the side of being sure because we want him for a long time.”