Jeff Gordon to drive at Indy if Dale Earnhardt Jr. still sidelined

Jeff Gordon may not be done racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after all.

Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday morning that if the concussion-like symptoms that sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr. for this Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 continue to linger, causing him to sit out a second consecutive race next Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gordon will take Earnhardt’s place behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet.

Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Premier Series champion, retired at the end of last year and is a FOX Sports analyst on NASCAR television broadcasts.

Doug Durchardt, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, said lining up Gordon as a possible replacement for Earnhardt was a no-brainer.

“As far as Jeff Gordon’s situation, certainly he’s a four-time champion with 93 wins. He’s not a bad person to think about to put in the car," Durchardt said. "This week he’s in France. And obviously the way the week went, we didn’t even think we were going to need a replacement driver. We just thought we were going to need a backup driver. However, if Dale is not able to go to Indianapolis, we will put Jeff Gordon in the car.”

Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday evening that Earnhardt was sitting out this Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after experiencing the concussion-like symptoms following crashes recently at Michigan and again at Daytona. Earnhardt did race at Kentucky after the wreck at Daytona, but underwent a more extensive examination when the symptoms continued to linger afterward.

Gordon retired after 24 years of racing at NASCAR’s top level, during which he recorded 93 wins in 797 career starts. Five of Gordon’s wins came at Indy, where no other driver has won as many, and only Richard Petty and David Pearson have more all-time wins in the series overall.

"I’m disappointed about missing New Hampshire this weekend. I’m looking forward to treatment with the goal of getting back in the race car when the doctors say I’m ready," Earnhardt Jr. said in a statement released Thursday evening.

Later, he took to Twitter to thank fans and others for all their support.

This is not the first time Earnhardt has had to miss a race because of a concussion-related injury. He also missed two races during the 2012 Chase after crashing during a practice session at Kansas Speedway, and then aggravating his injury in a wreck at Talladega shortly thereafter.

In that instance, Earnhardt took the two weeks off based on a recommendation from Dr. Jerry Petty, the same neurosurgeon who last week recommended that Camping World Truck Series driver John Wes Townley sit out at least one weekend because of concussion-like symptoms Townley was experiencing after a wreck at Gateway Motorsports Park recently.

Earnhardt also is believed to have suffered concussions following at least two other violent wrecks in his career — at Auto Club Speedway in 2002 and at Dover in 2003, when he had to be air-lifted to a hospital afterward for further evaluation. Reports from on the scene at the Dover incident were that Earnhardt was unconscious when safety workers first arrived at his car.

In addition to the crashes earlier this year at Michigan and the Daytona July race, Earnhardt also has been involved in wrecks at the season-opening Daytona 500, Talladega and Dover.

Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said he was glad Earnhardt admitted he was experiencing problems and sought medical attention. He also said he wants Earnhardt to take as long as he needs before getting back in the car, and that at this point no one is certain when that will be.

“I’m proud of Dale for standing up,” Hendrick said. “The number-one priority is his health, so we’re going to give him all the time he needs. We completely support the decision by the doctors and will be ready to go win races when he’s 100 percent. In the meantime, we have full confidence in (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the team, and we know they’ll do a great job.”

Earnhardt currently sits 13th in the points standings and has yet to win a race this season.

Earnhardt made news last April when he announced that he intended to donate his brain to science upon his death so it could possibly aid the study of the effects of concussions.

Durchardt said he has not yet spoken to Earnhardt or the driver’s doctors since the diagnosis of concussion-like symptoms came down. But he added that a definitive decision on whether Gordon would replace him at Indy would likely need to be made by next Wednesday.

“I would say probably around Wednesday," Durchardt said. "For (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the team, certainly the way Jeff sits in the car and what we have to do to prepare the car for Jeff they have to get ready for that.  But I think I would be looking around Wednesday time frame.”

Durchardt also said no decision has been made about Gordon possibly replacing Earnhardt for additional races after Indy, if Earnhardt is not cleared by doctors to get back in the car by then.

“I really don’t want to speculate past Indy," Durchardt said. "I think we just want to take it one race at a time here. I think putting any speculation past that is assuming that Dale is not going to be ready for that amount of time.  We will obviously be thinking about contingency plans, but we don’t have anything formalized for sure past Indy.”