Jeff Gordon: ‘I will be here as long as they need me’

Well, within limits, he says.

bySteve Cole Smith|
NASCAR photo

As even the most casual NASCAR fan knows, the retired Jeff Gordon is filling in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who is being evaluated for symptoms that may be related to concussions he has suffered from past crashes.

Gordon spent the first half of the season in the broadcast booth, but with the TV coverage switching networks mid-season, he was free to rejoin his Hendrick Motorsports to fill in for Earnhardt. For the first race Earnhardt missed, Alex Bowman drove the number 88 car, but he is not sufficiently famous to satisfy the big-buck sponsors Earnhardt’s car carries, and Gordon is.

In a press conference prior to this weekend’s race at Pocono, Gordon spoke of how there is nothing easy about taking eight months off and coming back:

Has he spoken to Earnhardt? “Yeah, I’ve spoken to Dale a couple of times.  He and this team have a great relationship and he and Greg (Ives, crew chief) and so he likes to FaceTime.  It seems like he is always on the treadmill every time I see him or talk to him.  He is just real interested in what we are up to and how it’s going and things we are working on.”

How long can he fill in, and when is Earnhardt coming  back? “Nobody is putting any pressure or time frame on that.  He may be putting that on himself more than anybody else.  Then there is the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points.  And then there is the sponsorship side of it as well.  So far from what Rick (Hendrick) is telling me that seems to be me.  That is why I was at Indy and that is why I’m here.  I thought Alex Bowman did an excellent job at New Hampshire.  I tell you after going through what I went through at Indy I have a much greater appreciation for him because that was one of the toughest things I ever did.  Not just getting in the race car after eight months, but trying to fill-in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. knowing the kind of attention that it gets.  My heart was beating out of my chest because of the pressure and the eyes that were on you as much as just not being in the car.  Great job to Alex.  I will be here as long as they need me.  I say that very loosely.”

How hard, and hot, was Indianapolis, the first race back? “Definitely, my body, the muscles that I haven’t used in a while were on fire Monday and Tuesday.  That part is a little bit different.  Even the activities that I have been doing over the last several months that are more outdoor activities not a lot of in the gym type stuff doesn’t light my back up like being in the race car, but I felt good today.”