Waltrip Weighs In on Gordon Coming Out of Retirement to Replace Earnhardt Jr. This Weekend and Next

Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that four-time NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES champion and FOX NASCAR analyst Jeff Gordon will drive the No. 88 Chevrolet this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and next weekend at Pocono Raceway in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is suffering from concussion-like symptoms. Gordon, who drove the legendary No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the entirety of his Sprint Cup Series career, retired at the conclusion of the 2015 season with 93 career victories. Below, fellow FOX NASCAR analyst and three-time series champion Darrell Waltrip weighs in on the news and how it likely affects Gordon and Earnhardt Jr.:

On whether he has spoken to fellow FOX NASCAR analyst Jeff Gordon about filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and how difficult it might be to come out of retirement after such a successful career and farewell tour:
“I have talked to him since he found out he will drive the No. 88 at Indianapolis. His willingness to fill in for Dale Jr. shows the loyalty, commitment and friendship he has with Rick Hendrick. If Rick called me and told me he needed me to drive any of his four cars, I’d do it in a heartbeat — and I’ll be 70 in February — not because I want to but because he asked me. That’s the loyalty Jeff has to Rick. Jeff will be just fine in the No. 88. He will compete at a high level, just like he ended his career in 2015. He’s only been out the car for a few months and has been at the track every week and around that team. He’s the winningest driver at Indy, and it’s his home track. If he was going to choose to run a race, it would probably be this one. He’s very enthusiastic about doing it and hasn’t been dragged into it at all.”

On whether Waltrip is jealous of Gordon’s opportunity to come out of retirement in such a high-profile and competitive ride:
“I told Jeff, ‘I want you to do it because I know you will do a great job and probably can win the race,’ but I also told him I’m jealous because I would have loved the opportunity to get in a car like that the last year of my career or even a year or two after I retired. If someone had asked me back then if I’d get in a car capable of winning a race, I would have said ‘yes’ in a heartbeat. That’s a no-brainer for a driver. I’m pretty sure Jeff is going into Indy thinking he can and will win that race.”

On how he expects Gordon to perform at Indianapolis after being out of a race car since the 2015 season finale in November:
“It truly wouldn’t surprise me one bit for him to grab that 94th Sprint Cup victory at Indy that he thought he’d never see just a few short months ago. Back when we had the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway, Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and I were calling the race. Jeff came up there and hadn’t been in a dirt car in a number of years. The first time he went out to practice, he was way off the pace. I commented to Mike and Larry that he would be lost that night in the race. Well, he went out for the second practice and went to the top of the board. He might take a few practice laps to get comfortable in the No. 88 car, but it shouldn’t be a problem at all. He should be a contender at Pocono, as well.”

On how difficult it is for a driver to sit out a race:
“The hardest thing I ever had to do was watch someone else drive my car. You stand on the sidelines in anguish. Sitting out is very trying for a driver, particularly when you know you probably could drive but just not at 100-percent. That’s what most impresses me about Dale Jr.’s decision — he probably could have gone to New Hampshire and Indy this weekend but likely wouldn’t have felt that he could give a full effort to his team. But that’s the beautiful thing about the Chase and the exemptions drivers can get to compete for the championship. He can sit out a few weeks, if needed, feel better, come back and win a race, be in the top 30 in points and still make the Chase. It’s the toughest thing a driver will ever have to do, but it’s the easiest thing they can do today based on these exemption circumstances.”

On what it will be like for Gordon to race against his former car number (No. 24):
“When he has to race against the No. 24 this weekend, that will be a really weird feeling because the only car he ever drove was the 24. To climb in another car and compete against your old car — I can’t imagine what that must feel like, but it’s probably one of those surreal, out-of-body experiences.”