Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss at least two more NASCAR races as he continues to deal with concussion symptoms, Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday.
Jeff Gordon, a former Hendrick teammate and four-time Cup champion who retired after last season, will replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 Chevy for Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the July 31 race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
Earnhardt, 41, who had recent crashes at Michigan and Daytona, felt poorly before the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. After initially thinking he was suffering from allergies, Earnhardt consulted a neurologist, who didn’t clear him to drive last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and he will not travel to Indianapolis or Pocono.
According to a Hendrick Motorsports news release, Earnhardt was evaluated Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Earnhardt said this week that he has had problems with balance and nausea.
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Earnhardt, who had two concussions during 2012, has said he will donate his brain to scientific research after he dies.
“Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “There’s nothing we want more than to see him back in the race car, but we’ll continue to listen to the doctors and follow their lead. What’s best for Dale is what’s best for Hendrick Motorsports and everyone involved with the team. We’re all proud of him and looking forward to having him racing soon.”
Earnhardt, who hasn’t won a race this season and is 15th in the points standings, wasn’t available for comment. But during a podcast Sunday night, he said: “My mind feels real sharp. I’ve struggled with my balance over the last four, five days and I definitely wouldn’t be able to drive a race car (last weekend). I made the decision I had to make. It's just going to take a lot of patience.”
Alex Bowman replaced Earnhardt at New Hampshire, finishing 26th after a tire blew late in the race.
Gordon had 93 Cup victories, including five at Indianapolis, before he retired after the 2015 season. He worked as a Fox television race commentator during the first 16 races of this season.
“Jeff’s a team player,” Hendrick said. “I know he’ll be ready, and I know Dale has incredible trust in him. It’s going to be an emotional weekend (at Indianapolis) with Dale not being there and seeing Jeff back behind the wheel. (Crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the team did a great job at New Hampshire, and they have the full support of our organization.”
Ives said he doesn’t expect there to be too much of an adjustment with Gordon, who made all 797 of his Cup starts for Hendrick.
“We already know all of his dimensions and have the seats, seatbelts and everything that he felt comfortable in when he ran the last race at Homestead (Fla.) in 2015, so we were able to have access to all that,” Ives said in a story on Hendrick’s website. “Everyone (has) been able to work together, so we have the ability to get Jeff’s seat and everything in the car just exactly the way he last remembered it.
“We are getting to work with one of the most iconic figures in NASCAR who has helped get the sport to where it is today.”
Kenseth team penalized
Matt Kenseth’s team was hit with a penalty after his car failed inspection after winning Sunday’s race at New Hampshire. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $25,000 and the team was docked 15 championship and owner points. Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick also will lose 15 minutes of practice time Friday at Indianapolis for inspection violations at New Hampshire.