Team owner Hendrick hopeful Earnhardt returns at Brickyard

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Team owner Rick Hendrick said he does not think
the concussion symptoms that sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr. are
career threatening. Hendrick hoped to have NASCAR’s most popular
driver back in the car next week at the Brickyard.

Earnhardt, 41, sat out Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor
Speedway because he was not cleared to race. Alex Bowman drove the
No. 88 Chevrolet on Sunday.

”If there was something major wrong, I think (doctors) would have
seen it already,” Hendrick said. ”I’m very hopeful. He’s very
hopeful. I think the doctors want to err on the side of being sure.
We want him for a long time.”

Earnhardt will have more tests early this week. Hendrick
Motorsports will likely make a decision on Earnhardt’s availability
on Wednesday.

”Dale is special to me, take the driving part away,” Hendrick
said. ”I just want him to feel good when he gets back in the car.
I don’t want him to push himself.”

Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement
and drive the 88 next week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if
Earnhardt does not return. Hendrick says Gordon will likely remain
in the car should Earnhardt need an extended absence.

Gordon was in France when he received the call from Hendrick that
he might have to grab his helmet out of storage.

”I asked him what he was doing next week. He said, `I’ll be in
Indy, that’s one of my appearances,”’ Hendrick said. ”I said,
`Well bring your drivers uniform just in case.”’

Gordon told Hendrick he had to be kidding.

Hendrick replied, ”No, I’m serious.”

Gordon was the obvious choice to pinch-drive in the No. 88
Chevrolet for Earnhardt, his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate,
at one of his favorite tracks. Gordon won the last of his record
five Brickyard 400 victories in 2014.

He retired at the end of last season and called NASCAR races for
Fox Sports this season.

”I don’t think it will take Gordon long to get back in the
groove,” Hendrick said.

Hendrick spoke outside the No. 24 hauler, Gordon’s old car that now
belongs to Chase Elliott.

Earnhardt told his team last weekend at Kentucky Speedway he wasn’t
feeling well – he thought he had severe allergies – and finished
13th. He felt worse Tuesday and told his team that it needed to at
least consider a backup driver for New Hampshire. When medication
for allergies and a sinus infection failed, Earnhardt dug deeper
and met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation,
it was decided Earnhardt had to sit.

He missed two races in 2012 when it was determined he had suffered
two concussions in six weeks. Earnhardt was involved in a 22-car
wreck in Daytona this month and also wrecked last month at Michigan
International Speedway.

Earnhardt is winless this season and 13th in the points standings.
Because he will not start every race, Earnhardt will need a waiver
from NASCAR to compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship
if he meets other eligibility requirements. NASCAR has never denied
a waiver request.

Hendrick said he hasn’t yet thought about applying for one.

Earnhardt, who has 26 career Sprint Cup victories, talked with
Hendrick earlier this month about a contract extension. Earnhardt
has raced for Hendrick since 2008 and his contract expires in 2017.

”When they say you’re good to go, then he’ll be back,” Hendrick

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