But the four-time Sprint Cup champion believes he could have used his own standby during the race.
“I’m filling in for Dale Jr, but I needed a fill-in on restarts,” Gordon joked. “Restarts have never been really my thing. I’ve been out of it for months. I’ve lost a step here and there.
“I got my butt kicked on restarts today. It was embarrassing. … Other than that, I thought it went really well.”
Gordon finished 13th in the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 after more than 200 days away from racing in NASCAR’s premier series.
Dealing with oppressive heat (and limited training to prepare for it) and working with a new crew chief, spotter and team, he acquitted himself quite well at Indianapolis – perhaps no surprise given that he has five wins at the storied 2.5-mile track.
“I felt really good in the car in the race with the balance, giving good information back to the team,” he said. “They did an excellent job with the pit stops, the strategy, keeping us in the game and not going a lap down. I was fighting hard. It was hot out there, but I was able to manage through that because I had a great car and a great team.”
Gordon gained several spots after crew chief Greg Ives made a last-minute call to pit early in the race, showing that the team quickly worked through any potential concerns with communication.
“Every time you get somebody new, a new personality, a new dynamic, you learn something not only about yourself but the race team,” Ives said. “You learn how another driver needs you to communicate and interact. It was good. Under the circumstances, we made the best out of it.
“I feel like in the end, if this doesn’t make Dale and I better, if it doesn’t make the team better, then we didn’t do the right steps to make it better for us.’’
Said Gordon: “Their communication; their information they gave me to prepare for this race. I think there were many times when I was letting them down with some runs we made in practice, in qualifying, on the restarts today. But they never let me down. They did an excellent job. We had a little work to do in the beginning to get the car better. We had a car that was capable of being up there. I just wish I was better on those restarts. “
Gordon said he plans to practice restarts for the July 31 race at Pocono Raceway, where he again will race the No. 88 Chevrolet as Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms.
“I can’t wait to talk to Dale Jr. to debrief on how it went and see how he’s doing,” Gordon said. “I want him in the car as soon as possible. I’m too old to do this stuff, but to come here and do this race and finish 13th, I think I can do better next week for him, and then we’ll go from there.”