If Earn­hardt is out, Gor­don could be back in at Brick­yard

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JEFF GLUCK USA To­day

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.

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