There’s a familiar face in the No. 88 car this week but it’s not who you would expect.
Jeff Gordon, one of NASCAR’s most beloved drivers, is returning to the track, but under unfortunate circumstances. NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., made the difficult decision to sit out last week’s race at New Hampshire out of concern for his health because of effects from a concussion. Gordon agreed to come out of retirement and return to the driver’s seat for Earnhardt Jr. if Earnhardt Jr. didn’t feel comfortable racing after taking the week off.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday morning that Earnhardt Jr. will miss the next two races – Indianapolis and Pocono – and Gordon will be filling in.
Before the 2015 season, Gordon announced it would be his last full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and he joined FOX as a broadcaster for their NASCAR coverage this year.
Fans are concerned for Earnhardt Jr., but are also excited for Gordon’s return. Gordon is capable of winning either of the next two races and that puts added pressure on drivers who aren’t yet in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup but are on the brink. That includes Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne. Elliot has yet to win a race this year, despite currently sitting 11th in the points standings. Kasey Kahne doesn’t have a win either and is 18th in the points standings and is eight points out of the Top 16.
While Earnhardt Jr. would like to be behind the wheel, Indianapolis hasn’t been a track that has treated him well in the past. In fact, based on his average finish of 18.81, it is his sixth worst track all-time. On the other hand, Earnhardt Jr. has excelled at Pocono in his career. Since 2011, Earnhardt Jr. has finished out of the Top 10 just twice in 11 races at Pocono and the total includes a pair of victories in 2014.
Gordon, who has 797 starts and 93 wins in his career, has the chance to add on to his Hall of Fame resume. With five wins at Indianapolis and six at Pocono, Gordon is the all-time leader in wins at both tracks. Even with his time off, Gordon’s racing experience makes him a serious contender to win in the next two races.
While a win by Gordon in either race wouldn’t make Earnhardt Jr. eligible for the Chase, a Gordon victory could help Earnhardt Jr. remain eligible for the Chase in the point standings. Currently, Earnhardt Jr. holds the last spot in the Chase grid and a Gordon win keeps another winless driver from automatically qualifying for the Chase (if the driver is in the Top 30 in the points standings). With five spots still up for grabs in the Chase, the next two races will have a big impact on Earnhardt Jr.’s chances to make the Chase.
Tune-in to catch all the action this Sunday at 2:00 PM CT on NBC Sports Network.
Racing returns to Kansas Speedway in less than 90 days.
Tickets are on sale by calling 866.460.7223 or logging on to WWW.KANSASSPEEDWAY.COM for the Hollywood Casino 400, the fifth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on Oct. 16, the Kansas Lottery 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Oct. 15, and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season finale on Oct. 14.
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