DARLINGTON, S.C. — Jeff Gordon had long planned to be at Darlington Raceway this weekend, largely to greet fans and answer questions about his career as a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
Gordon now has a bigger job as a fill-in driver for injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.: win tonight's Southern 500 and lead the Hendrick Motorsports team into the Chase for the Championship.
And there might be no better place for Gordon's experience to shine than Darlington, where he's third all time with seven victories.
"It's a track that I'm comfortable on and that I like," he said last week. "I hope I can put that with a result that this team deserves."
It has been a whirlwind summer for Gordon, 45, who was settling into post-Sprint Cup life after retiring at the end of 2015.
Gordon enjoyed his role as a NASCAR broadcaster this season, and his quality time with wife Ingrid Vandebosch and children, Ella, 9, and Leo, 6.
"It was balancing out really nicely, all going according to plan," he said.
But team owner and friend Rick Hendrick asked Gordon to return to the No. 88 car after Earnhardt was sidelined in July with concussion symptoms. Earnhardt announced Friday that he's out for the season.
Now Gordon is back at "The Track Too Tough To Tame," the 1.333-mile egg-shaped oval where only David Pearson (10 wins) and the late Dale Earnhardt (nine) won more.
"First time all year I have some valuable notes about the package and what the car should be like," Gordon said. "I'm hoping that can help me get up to speed and help the team."