Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick discuss the week leading up to the Brickyard 400 and Dale Earnhardt’s status …

Posted: July 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

Jeff Gordon‘s commitment to pilot Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Axalta Chevrolet in Sunday’s Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard, came in flourish following the initial announcement several days ago that Earnhardt was stepping away from driving temporarily due to concussion-like symptoms he was experiencing. The announcement let to further information that Earnhardt had not been cleared by physicians to compete in at least the next two NASCAR contests.

Hendrick Motorsports could not have a more talented or proven professional as a better fill-in. Gordon boasts a track-record five victories at Indianapolis, boasting 12 top fives, 17 top 10s and three poles at the iconic speedway. A surefire future NASCAR Hall of Famer, Gordon ranks third on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list with 93 victories. For his career, he boasts 325 top fives, 475 top 10s and 81 Coors Light Pole Awards.

Gordon, who spent the majority of his developmental years in Pittsboro, Indiana, won the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis as a second-year driver in 1994 and he will start 21st for Sunday’s race, having qualified .746 seconds off the pole setting pace of former Hendrick teammate and defending NASCAR Champion; Kyle Busch.

Jeff Gordon with Rick Hendrick during a press conference at IMS -- Image by Bret Kelley

Jeff Gordon with Rick Hendrick during a press conference at IMS — Image by Bret Kelley

In a Friday morning press conference at IMS, Gordon and Rick Hendrick discussed Dale Jr.’s status following a tweet Earnhardt posted earlier in morning, 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.” Hendrick further commented: “I think you saw Dale’s tweet this morning. Wednesday he came by the shop, and we got to visit. He looks good; he is encouraged. He is following the Dr.’s orders. We’re really excited. He is in great spirits. He wants to get back in the car. He wants to race, but he also knows that the regime they have him on will get him right for a long time. He’s following Dr.’s orders, but I can tell he is getting antsy. But, he is going to do what they say.  He is doing well.”

In telling the story of how he learned about Rick Hendrick’s need for his help, Gordon described receiving the initial Hendrick text: “If I could scroll through my phone, and look at the texts I have gotten from Rick that said ‘Call me’, I can tell you that you sit down when you call him in those instances.  It hasn’t happened a lot, but the times that it has it is usually pretty big.”

“I was in the South of France at that time. I think it was the second day of our vacation. Ingrid and I had planned a vacation to go over there.  I get that text, and I looked at her and said ‘Oh boy, here we go’.  I had no idea.  When Rick said to me ‘Are you coming to Indianapolis?’ I said ‘Yes I am. I am coming on Saturday’. He said ‘Well, you better bring your uniform’. I asked what he was talking about and he started to tell me about what was going on.  I thought he was messing with me. I knew he was messing with me. I knew right away the seriousness after that, and that he wasn’t joking. That it was serious. Honestly I didn’t have to think twice about it. When Rick calls, he has that confidence in me, and asked me to step-up and do something for the organization – whether it was driver, or other responsibilities. The way he has been there for me. The way this team and organization has been there for me over the years, I didn’t anticipate this. This is certainly the last thing that was going to happen. But I knew it was Indianapolis. I didn’t think about it. I felt like if there was one place that I was capable of doing it, it would be here. “

Describing how quickly plans to race at Indianapolis came together, Gordon went on to say: 

“First off I will just walk you through a little bit.  I got back from France on Tuesday.  I landed in New York; Mr. Hendrick was kind enough to have a plane there waiting for me to bring me to Charlotte.  I landed in Charlotte, drove straight to the shop and spent the evening with the team.  They had already put the seat in and the steering wheel and had been working with the No. 24 team that had access to everything the seat and the liner.  Luckily, we have archived and kept a lot of these things.  Really, this is basically my seat from Homestead, probably my steering wheel as well.  So, I spent the evening and it was really close, there were just a couple of little minor tweaks.  I came back the next morning to the shop and started that process.  I had to get a physical.  I had to do all the NASCAR requirements. I have an owner credential I don’t have a driver credential, so had to go through that process and spent the whole day there with Greg Ives.”

“The cool thing about Greg Ives is he reminded me that he worked for Robbie Loomis when Robbie was my crew chief and he was telling some great stories about working with Robbie.  I’ve known Greg for a long time and always been impressed with him.  But, I have never had the opportunity to work with him.  I’m looking forward to working with him.  I think he’s a great crew chief and they have a great race team.  I spent a lot of time with him and his team and the engineers going over data from the test that were here.  We have video, we have like Go-Pro video from inside the cars that I can watch Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, they both tested here and all their data.  And then it was not about 2015, it was about 2014 because in 2015 we had that huge spoiler… everything was different, but if you go back to ’14 even though it was more power, the traces are more similar.  I kind of like ’14 it was a good year.  I was happy to see that. ”

JeffGordonChevySimulaor

“Then I took that information and went to the simulator the next morning in Huntersville (North Carolina) with GM (General Motors/Chevrolet) and they put those set-up’s and this aero package in the car in the simulator and I was able to drive it.  I had been in the simulator last year and I drove here as a matter of fact after a tire test that I did.  It was more of a verification trying to get the simulator continued to advance.  They have advanced a lot.  I thought that and I will be able to verify that today that is was very close.  Much closer than in the past of the breaking points, turning points, car handling, all those types of things.  I’m hoping that really pays off for me.”

Just prior to the announcement by Hendrick Motorsports that Gorden would be filling in for Dale Jr., the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had to pull the announcement out of the cue for publication, naming Gordon as the Brickyard 400’s Pace Car driver. Asked about his role as a Pace Car driver and would he be willing to fulfill that role at next year’s race he replied: “Absolutely!  I owe you one, for sure, on that; and I would be honored to be able to do it. Thank you for considering me and yeah, that was another part of this. I sent Jon Edwards a text and said, ‘Um, have you spoken to the speedway?’  And he goes, ‘Yeah, the announcement is getting ready to come out’. I said, ‘You need to hold off on that announcement.’  So, I apologize about that.”

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