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Jeff Gordon Set To Return To Competition In The Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon talks about returning to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Russ Lake Photo]

Jeff Gordon talks about returning to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Russ Lake Photo]

Speedway, Ind.—July 22—The original plan was to have Jeff Gordon become the first celebrity to drive the pace car at both the Indianapolis 500 and the Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard in the same year when a simple “Call Me” text interrupted Gordon’s vacation in France.

Jeff Gordon back on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Jeff Gordon back on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [John Wiedemann Photo]

“He asked if I was going to be in Indianapolis,” Gordon said on Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a press conference detailing his return to competition filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was forced to the sidelines after experiencing concussion-like symptoms, “and when I said ‘yes’, he told me I better bring my uniform and I thought ‘oh boy…here we go.”

Jeff Gordon and car-owner Rick Hendrick addressed the media Friday and explained the process in which Gordon was tabbed to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the #88 Axalta Chevrolet for Sunday afternoon’s Brickyard 400 which will be Gordon’s first race since stepping away from the driver’s seat following the 2015 season finale in Homestead. The time away along with a forecast that calls for high heat present many challenges for Gordon but he said he was ready to get back behind the wheel.

“I’ve done everything I possibly can over the last three days to get ready for this race the best way I can,” Gordon stated, “We’ll find out what kind of condition that I’m in, certainly Rick (Hendrick) and the whole team have given me a lot of confidence by choosing me to do this.”

“Qualifying is the first thing that comes to mind, even more than the heat,” Gordon continued, “To lay down laps to advance to the second round and then the third round and to do that in a short amount of time in the heat of the day will be tough.”

Even simple tasks such as driving to pit road are possible challenges and Gordon touched on that as well.

“The biggest thing is going to the #88 pit stall instead of the #24,” Gordon explained, “For 23 years I went to that #24 stall and we’ve already talked about the process to make sure that doesn’t happen. There are so many strange scenarios to this as I’ll be racing against the #24 car but once I get inside the car I don’t know what’s outside the car so I’m focused on the racing.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick also provided some insight on the progress of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will out of action at least two weeks with concussion-like symptoms. Earnhardt tweeted early Friday morning that he has sensed some improvement in his condition.

“I care about him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) as a friend and someone who means a lot to me and I want him to be healthy and right when he gets back in the car,” Hendrick said, “The news has been really good and this morning’s tweet was good.”

“I really enjoyed spending time with him on Wednesday and he misses this team,” Hendrick continued, “Between Jeff (Gordon) agreeing to drive the car and ‘Junior’ walking into the shop on Wednesday, they are really excited. When he came to see the guys at the shop, that really gave them a lift.”

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta