Jeff Gordon to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. for at least 2 races
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss at least the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms, Hendrick Motorsports confirmed Wednesday morning.
Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet, has not been medically cleared by physicians to compete in at least the next two Sprint Cup Series events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Sunday and at Pocono Raceway on July 31.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon will be the team’s substitute driver at Indianapolis and Pocono. He most recently raced in the 2015 Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway before retiring from full-time Sprint Cup driving at the end of last season, and now works as a NASCAR television analyst for FOX Sports.
Earnhardt underwent further evaluation Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. The driver said this week on his "The Dale Jr. Download" podcast that he has been experiencing issues with balance and nausea.
"I know there’s probably a lot of speculation about what type of injury or symptoms I’m dealing with," Earnhardt said on the podcast, which he recorded last Sunday night and posted Monday afternoon. "My mind feels real sharp. I took the impact test, which measures thought process and the speed of your thought process, and memory and retaining memory, and my results matched my baseline (test results), which made me feel confident that my brain was pretty sharp. It feels good.
"The symptoms that I have are balance and nausea. So I’ve struggled with my balance over the last four or five days, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to drive a race car (last) weekend (at New Hampshire). So making the right decision really was out of the question. I made the decision that I had to make."
Then Earnhardt hinted that he likely would not be able to get back in the car by Indy. And now he will not travel to either Indianapolis or Pocono. What happens after that will be determined by what his doctors tell him.
"I’m going to continue to work with my doctors to understand more about the injury and how to treat it," Earnhardt said on the podcast. "They can give me a lot of exercises that will re-train my brain to handle what I need to handle. It’s just going to take a lot of patience.
"I put my health and quality of life as a top priority. And I’ll always do that. So I’m going to take this slow and strictly follow the advice of my doctors, and try to learn as much as I can to be smarter and wiser. It’s always been a real experience going through this kind of stuff because you learn so much through the experience. I’ve got some great doctors to learn from."
Team owner Rick Hendrick has said repeatedly that he wants Earnhardt to take all the time he needs to get 100 percent healthy.
"Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover," Hendrick said. "There’s nothing we want more than to see him back in the race car, but we’ll continue to listen to the doctors and follow their lead. What’s best for Dale is what’s best for Hendrick Motorsports and everyone involved with the team. We’re all proud of him and looking forward to having him racing soon."
Gordon, 44, has made all 797 of his career Cup starts for Hendrick Motorsports. He competed in his 23rd and final full-time Sprint Cup season in 2015, and ranks third all-time with 93 race victories in NASCAR’s top series. Gordon also owns a record five wins in his career at the Brickyard.
"Jeff’s a team player," Hendrick said. "I know he’ll be ready, and I know Dale has incredible trust in him. It’s going to be an emotional weekend (at Indianapolis) with Dale not being there and seeing Jeff back behind the wheel. (No. 88 team crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the team did a great job at New Hampshire, and they have the full support of our organization."
Indianapolis will be the second consecutive race Earnhardt has missed after being diagnosed with "concussion-like" symptoms following recent wrecks he was involved in at both Michigan and Daytona.
This is at least the fourth time in Earnhardt’s career that he has suffered from a concussion or concussion-like symptoms, which this time he described in great detail on the podcast on his website earlier this week.
Earnhardt added in his podcast that he expects to return to the car at some point, and thanked everyone for their support during what obviously is a difficult time for him.
"I miss everybody. I really appreciate all the support that I’ve gotten," Earnhardt said. "It’s really unnecessary, but it really does make me feel good.
"I have to be honest. To hear everybody wishing me well really, really does my heart good. This kind of thing can beat you down and get you sad, but I’ve got a lot of good people around me, a lot of people supporting me. I hope we can get back at the track soon."
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) July 20, 2016