Jeff Gordon readies for the Brickyard in surprising return


By Michael Marot

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis and Pocono may not be the only stops on Jeff Gordon’s comeback tour.

The four-time Cup champion, who is coming out of retirement to fill in for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. the next two races, kept the door open to running more if Earnhardt doesn’t return from concussion-like symptoms.

Gordon is expected to make his season debut in Sunday’s Brickyard 400. Hendrick Motorsports has already announced Gordon will replace Earnhardt next weekend at Pocono, too.

Earnhardt used a Twitter post on Friday to tell fans he was finally starting to feel better, writing: “Today is the 1st day in many that I sensed improvement. Seen small gains during my physical therapy as well. Light at the end of the tunnel.”

But if NASCAR’s most popular driver misses more time, Gordon appears to be ready and willing to keep racing.

“Let’s not speculate right now,” Gordon said Friday after arriving at Indy’s 2.5-mile oval. “I’ll do whatever I need to, but I’ll also do whatever the team needs to get the most points.”

Earnhardt missed two races in 2012 with concussions and took himself out of the car last weekend at New Hampshire because he was struggling with his balance. Gordon had not spoken publicly since Hendrick made the announcement Wednesday that Earnhardt needed more time to recover.

For Gordon, it was an easy decision.

He spent 23 years driving the No. 24 car to 93 career wins for team owner Rick Hendrick, including a record five times at Indianapolis — which is just a short drive from his childhood home in Pittsboro, Ind. And he remains confident he can be competitive in his season debut, even with temperatures expected to hover in the 90s and a heat index topping 100 degrees all weekend.

Besides, he was planning to be at Indianapolis this weekend anyway.

Speedway President Doug Boles said race organizers were planning to announce Gordon would drive the pace car this weekend. Those plans changed when Earnhardt was ruled out Tuesday night by doctors in Pittsburgh.

“I spoke with John Edwards and said, ‘Have you spoken to the speedway yet?’” Gordon said. “I said, ‘Well, you might want to hold off on that announcement.’”

Gordon also acknowledged that while it won’t be hard to focus on racing in Earnhardt’s No. 88 car, it will be odd to climb out of the car and see Earnhardt’s name — and it will be a challenge to stay out of Chase Elliott’s pit box. Elliott replaced Gordon in the No. 24 car following the 2015 season finale.

By Michael Marot

AP Sports Writer

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