Jeff Gordon on his return at Indy: ‘I got my butt kicked on restarts’

Jeff Gordon was generally pleased with his performance as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s substitute driver in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But he was not very happy about how he handled multiple restarts in the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard.

"It was a fight. Wow," said Gordon after finishing 13th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race won by Kyle Busch. "The challenges to be out there against the best, especially on those restarts … I got my butt kicked on those restarts. It was embarrassing.

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"While I will fill in for Dale Jr., and I hope he’s doing good, I needed a fill-in on restarts. It was pretty bad. Other than that, I thought it went really well."

Gordon is driving the No. 88 car as Earnhardt continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms that have sidelined Earnhardt for the last two races. Earnhardt already has been ruled out for next Sunday’s race at Pocono, where Gordon again will sub for him.

Gordon said he enjoyed working with crew chief Greg Ives and the No. 88 team during a long, hot day at Indy that included four restarts after multiple wrecks over the final seven laps of regulation and 10 laps of NASCAR’s version of double-overtime.

"I really liked working with Greg and this whole No. 88 team," Gordon said. "It took us a little while to get the balance right, but the track and the adjustments eventually came to us. (Ives) made an awesome pit call to come in early one time, and he made the call as I was between Turns 3 and 4.

"That made up a lot of spots for us — because we had a fast race car. We just couldn’t get the track position and it was pretty tough to pass. And I didn’t want to see those cautions at the end. I don’t know. I’m going to need some practice on restarts for Pocono anyway."

Gordon started 21st in the race, but found himself one lap down in 26th after the first round of green-flag pit stops.

Ironically, it was on the last restart that he actually made up several additional positions to finish inside the top 15.

"We finally, actually, got the car decent on the outside for the last one," Gordon said. "Before that we were always loose when we were on the outside (for the restarts). I made up a bunch of spots off of (Turn) 4."

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day for a guy who had gone 245 days since last driving in a Sprint Cup race. A four-time champion in NASCAR’s top series, Gordon retired as a full-time driver at the end of last season and now works as a FOX Sports NASCAR television analyst.

"On one hand I’m relieved that this is over and on the other hand I would have liked it to have gone a little bit better," Gordon said. "I’m looking forward to going to Pocono."

Gordon finished his day by making a ceremonial final lap at Indy with Tony Stewart, who is retiring as a Cup driver at the end of this season.

"Thank you to Tony Stewart. What a class act he is," Gordon said. "It meant a lot to me that he invited me to come and make that last lap with him. It was a special moment."