Jeff Gordon Back in Action at The Brickyard 400?!
The NASCAR community, and probably a large portion of the motorsports world in general, is holding its collective breath in anticipation of legendary Jeff Gordon’s potential return to competition on July 24 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As disclosed last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been sidelined temporarily as a result of “concussion-like symptoms” that surfaced going into the racing weekend at Kentucky Speedway. No timetable has been set for Earnhardt Jr.’s hiatus, leading to an announcement by Hendrick Motorsports that Gordon would be the likely candidate to step in to the No. 88 for the Brickyard event. Alex Bowman, a part-time driver for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team, took over driving duties for Earnhardt in last Sunday’s Loudon, new Hampshire event.
Gordon has spent the 2016 season working in his post-competition career–full-time Fox Sports analyst for Cup Series events–after concluding an incredible career in NASCAR competition. For a review of Gordon’s career accomplishments, check out GimmeInfo’s previous post titled “Jeff Gordon–The Career of a Giant.” Hendrick Motorsports’ crew has begun the cockpit modifications needed to accommodate Gordon, although a final decision on Earnhardt Jr. is not expected until mid-week.
The 23-year old Bowman did double duty this past weekend at Loudon, piloting the JR Motorsports entry in the AutoLotto 200 event to an eighth place finish (fifth highest of the Xfinity regulars), leading 7 of the 200 laps and finishing on the lead lap. On Sunday, filling in for Earnhardt Jr., he started 20th and finished 26th in the New Hampshire 301, running consistently near the top levels until a tire issue late in the event put him one lap down to the leaders. It was an impressive showing for the Tucson, AZ native, who started the 2016 racing season amid disappointment after losing a promising assignment with Tommy Baldwin Racing (see GimmeInfo’s previous post covering this issue).
2016 has been somewhat of a disappointment for “Junior Nation,” Earnhardt’s legion of dedicated fans. After race No. 19, and with only seven more remaining before the 2016 Chase for The Sprint Cup grid is set, the popular third-generation driver sits in 15th place in the standings, with no wins or poles and only six top-10 finishes in the 18 races he entered. His average finishing position this season is 15.3, and he’s led only 53 laps in competition. Without a win in regular season competition, his entry into Chase competition may be in doubt, and may require an exception from NASCAR to compensate for the missed races if his points standing after race no. 26 keeps him in the top 16. There’s a lot to ponder in the days and weeks ahead for the No. 88 team, but conventional sentiment is that Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports, and the race team will err on the side of caution and defer a return of the popular driver until after full medical clearances have been secured.
Meanwhile, at The Brickyard, Gordon at age 44 would be a favorite, at least a sentimental favorite, based on his incredible record of five wins in the prestigious event. Combining his fan base with Earnhardt Jr.’s could make the 2016 Brickyard event one of the most heralded editions of this classic race, now preparing to go green for the 23rd time. But keep in mind that there will be at least seven other former winners in the starting field, including four-time winner Jimmie Johnson (2012, 2009, 2008, & 2006). Other previous winners include Kyle Busch (2015), Ryan Newman (2013), Paul Menard (2011), Jamie McMurray (2010), Tony Stewart (2007 & 2005), and Kevin Harvick (2003).
For additional details and schedule information about the 2016 Brickyard 400–officially titled the “CROWN ROYAL PRESENTS THE COMBAT WOUNDED COALITION 400 AT THE BRICKYARD–visit the IMS website page.