Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Sports

Earnhardt Jr. remains out, so Jeff Gordon takes over No. 88

INDIANAPOLIS — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not race again this month because of concussion-like symptoms, so his No. 88 Chevrolet will be driven by former teammate Jeff Gordon for the next two weeks.

Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that Earnhardt has not yet been cleared to drive by doctors and will miss Sunday's Brickyard 400 as well as the following weekend's race at Pocono. NASCAR's most popular driver has been battling balance issues and nausea since a July 2 crash at Daytona.

Earnhardt did not race last weekend in New Hampshire, replaced by Alex Bowman. After another medical evaluation Tuesday in Pittsburgh, doctors told Earnhardt to take more time off.

"Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover," team owner Rick 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."

While retirement talk for the 41-year-old might be premature, his history of concussions is a concern. He had two in a six-week span in 2012 and missed two races. The latest symptoms surfaced after a mid-June crash at Michigan International Speedway and the wreck at Daytona. Earnhardt said he felt steadily worse, believing it was allergies at first. A neurological specialist later confirmed Earnhardt had sustained a head injury.

"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 this weekend," he told fans in a recording made Sunday night.

A team spokeswoman said Earnhardt will not take questions this week or next and that Gordon is not expected to speak publicly until Friday in Indy.

The move comes at a time that Hendrick's team has been out of synch. Its drivers have been shut out of the top three finishing spots in four consecutive races. Hendrick now turns to Gordon, a four-time NASCAR champion who retired at the end of last season. He's a five-time winner at the Brickyard, which has struggled with sluggish ticket sales leading up to Sunday's race at a track that is a short drive away from his childhood home in Pittsboro, Ind.

Gordon has not competed since retiring after the 2015 season finale.

Now the 44-year-old will get one more chance to become the first driver to reach Victory Lane six times at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He also counts a record six wins at Pocono among his 93 career Cup victories, all with Hendrick's team. "Jeff's a team player," Hendrick said. "I know he'll be ready, and I know Dale has incredible trust in him."

Gordon steps into Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet at a time when Axalta, a longtime primary sponsor of Gordon's, is scheduled to sponsor four of the next five races for Earnhardt. He will be racing against his much more familiar No. 24 car, which Chase Elliott drives.

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