Earnhardt Jr. to miss 2 more races, replaced by Jeff Gordon

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not race again this month
because of concussion-like symptoms and the No. 88 car will be
turned over to trusted 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 next 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 pulled himself out of the car last weekend in New
Hampshire and was 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. What’s best for Dale is what’s best
for Hendrick Motorsports and everyone involved with the team. We’re
all proud of him and looking forward to having him racing soon.”

While retirement talk for the 41-year-old Earnhardt might be
premature, his history of concussions is clearly 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,” Earnhardt told fans in a recording made Sunday night.
”I made the decision I had to make.”

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 powerhouse team has been
out of sync. Its drivers have been shut out of the top three
finishing spots in four consecutive races. Hendrick is now turning
to Gordon, the 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 in the lead up to Sunday’s
race at a track that is just a short drive away from his childhood
home in Pittsboro, Indiana.

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

Brickyard organizers had billed last year’s race as Gordon’s ”last
ride” on his home track. They were wrong.

The 44-year-old Gordon 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. It’s going to be an
emotional weekend (at Indianapolis) with Dale not being there and
seeing Jeff back behind the wheel. (Crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the
team did a great job at New Hampshire, and they have the full
support of our organization.”

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.

”That will be a really weird feeling because the only car he ever
drove was the 24,” Fox Sports commentator and three-time Cup champ
Darrell Waltrip said Wednesday. ”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.”

Not having Earnhardt in Sunday’s starting lineup also will be odd.
The North Carolina resident has started every Brickyard since 2000.

But even without one of NASCAR’s top drivers, Indiana fans will
have two storied drivers to watch – Gordon’s comeback and what is
supposed to be Tony Stewart’s grand finale on his home track.
Stewart, a three-time Cup champ and two-time Brickyard winner,
plans to retire at the end of this season.

”We wish the circumstances were different, but we’re thrilled
anytime we see Jeff Gordon on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval
and know our fans will love seeing him race again,” speedway
President Doug Boles said. ”Between Jeff making a return visit and
Tony Stewart making his final Brickyard start, this will be a
legendary weekend for Hoosier race fans at IMS!”

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