If Earnhardt is out, Gordon could be back in at Brickyard
Imagine if you were a NASCAR fan who had been off the grid for the last day and decided to check back in with the news.
What could possibly have happened in the middle of the week? Well ...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is out with concussion-like symptoms for this weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. And if he’s still out next week, Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to replace him at the Brickyard 400. Wait, what? That’s been pretty much everyone’s reaction to the NASCAR news that suddenly has more twists and turns than Watkins Glen’s road course. No one suspected Earnhardt was injured, and it’s highly unlikely many people would have guessed Gordon — who retired after the 2015 season with four Cup titles and 93 wins at Hendrick in the No. 24 — could potentially drive the No. 88 car next week.
The decision hasn’t been finalized. Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt said a decision would need to be made by Wednesday to allow enough time to prepare the car for Gordon. Earnhardt must be cleared by a neurologist before he climbs back into the car, but it’s reasonable to assume Hendrick knows there’s a possibility Earnhardt won’t be back in time for Indianapolis. Otherwise, the team wouldn’t have contacted Gordon, who is in France on vacation.
But the mere possibility of Gordon racing again — in a No. 88 car, at that — brings a flood of emotions for NASCAR fans. They already said goodbye last year, with what seemed like an ideal ending to his career. He made it to the championship race at HomesteadMiami Speedway, surrounded by a mob of well-wishers including Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
The chance of an encore for Gordon at a place that serves as one of his home tracks — he grew up in nearby Pittsboro, Ind. — and a track where he’s won a record five times.
Last year, Gordon crashed 50 laps into the race and ultimately finished 42nd at the Brickyard. It certainly wasn’t the way he wanted to end his time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Now he could get another opportunity. So could his fans.
It would be an awesome sight to see Gordon walk out to an ovation at Indianapolis, then race again.
But there’s a downside: You have to think about why Gordon is there.
If Gordon races, it means Earnhardt can’t. That would be a bad sign for Earnhardt’s season and potentially his future, so do fans really want that scenario to unfold?
Plus, would Gordon fans rather hold onto the memory of last season as their favourite driver’s swan song? Do they want his last race to be in a No. 88 instead of a No. 24?
It’s a tough call.