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Gordon: SHR reached out before Daytona 500
RELATED: Full schedule for Indianapolis " Gordon through the years SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Jeff Gordon 's "un-retirement" from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series began in earnest Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is filling in for Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis and next weekend at Pocono Raceway while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Almost as surprising as Gordon's return to the driver's seat -- he retired from full-time competition after the 2015 season -- was his disclosure that he had been approached about filling in for the injured Tony Stewart in this year's Daytona 500 . Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet and co-owner of the four-car organization, missed the first eight races after suffering a broken back in an off-road driving incident prior to the start of the 2016 season. Gordon's role as a FOX NASCAR analyst (the network provides coverage of the season's first 16 points races) prohibited him from returning to competition. "The crazy thing about all of this (is) I was asked to drive Tony Stewart 's car in Daytona to start the season," Gordon said Friday. "I wasn't able to do it because of my commitments to FOX. Now Rick (Hendrick, team owner) has some amazing ways to convince people into things that the average person might not be able to. I don't know, maybe he could have called Eric Shanks or something, but no, I don't think so." Shanks is President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports. Stewart is competing in his final season as a driver. Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard will be his final appearance at the famed 2.5-mile track, where he has earned two of his 49 career victories. That Gordon was asked about filling in earlier this season was news to Stewart. "I wasn't (aware)," Stewart said, "but that would have been awesome. That probably would have been one of the coolest things to happen this season. If that happened, I would have been all for it. … "I wasn't aware of that, but that would have been a really cool deal for us." MORE: Dale Jr. out, Gordon in No. 88 at Indianapolis, Pocono
Gordon talks return, Dale Jr. at Indianapolis
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Fans lined up two- and three-deep outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center hoping for autographs from four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon , who is returning to NASCAR competition this weekend. The five-time Indy winner will drive for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. for two races -- at Indy and next week at Pocono -- while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Gordon, 45, was all smiles and admittedly still a little overwhelmed with the new part-time job as he addressed the media for the first time Friday morning. He was primarily concerned with his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Earnhardt's recovery. "Most of all, I'm proud to be here and help this team out," Gordon said. "This is his team and what we want the most is to have him healthy and strong for the long term. My goal is to come here and give this team the best effort I can." Gordon said the whole opportunity to fill in for Earnhardt began with a simple cell phone text he received while vacationing with his wife in France. "Call me," read the text from team owner Rick Hendrick. "I can tell you, you sit down when you call," Gordon said smiling. "It hasn't happened a lot, but when it does, it's usually something big. "I was in the South of France at that time, second day of our vacation. I got that text and looked at my wife and said, 'Oh, boy, here we go.' "Rick said to me, 'Are you coming to Indianapolis?' And I told him I was coming on Saturday. He said, 'You better bring your uniform.' Then he started telling me what was happening, and I told him, 'You're messing with me. I know you're messing with me.' "I knew right away the seriousness, that he wasn't joking. That this was serious. I honestly didn't have to think twice." So Gordon flew back from Paris to New York on Tuesday, a day earlier than expected and Hendrick had a plane waiting on its "new" driver to transport him to the team's headquarters in North Carolina. Once in Charlotte, Gordon had to get a NASCAR driver's license -- he currently held one as a team owner -- and get the required physical tests to certify he was ready for competition. The team still had Gordon's seat and steering wheel from last season's Cup finale at Homestead. Gordon said he spent time studying data and GoPro video from inside the cars of Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott when they tested last week at Indy. Gordon said he also spent time speaking with crew chief 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," Gordon said. "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." An hour before Gordon and Hendrick spoke to the media in Indianapolis, Earnhardt sent a message to his fans on social media. "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," Earnhardt wrote on Twitter. RELATED: Earnhardt gives update on his health "I certainly woke up feeling good when I saw Dale Jr.'s tweet, that he's seen progress," Gordon said. "I texted him right away as soon as I saw that. So, that is great news. Great way to start the day." Hendrick also reiterated how proud of Earnhardt he was for recognizing a problem and taking correct and cautious measures in terms of racing. And, he noted, Earnhardt was in the race shop Wednesday spending time with his team. "He looks good and he's in great spirits," Hendrick said. "He's encouraged and following the doctors' orders and we're really excited. He wants to get back in the car. "He wants to race, but he also knows that the regimen they have him on will get him right for a long time. So he's following doctors' orders, but I can tell he's getting a little antsy. But he's going to do well." Gordon conceded that in addition to getting used to the 2016 Cup cars -- and the digital dash, which he has never used -- was the simple and obvious thing of remembering he's driving the No. 88 Chevrolet. For 24 seasons, Gordon drove the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick, earning four series titles and a record five Brickyard 400 trophies. Now, rookie Chase Elliott drives that car. "I'm going to be racing against the No. 24 car out there," Gordon said, allowing a slight smile. "It's a race car and I'm going to be focused on driving, not focused on anything else. "To me, once I get behind the wheel and I'm inside the car I don't know what is on the outside of that car." RELATED: Other times legendary athletes wore different numbers In addition to this role driving for Earnhardt, Gordon revealed he was asked in February to fill in for then-injured Tony Stewart in the season-opening Daytona 500 . He couldn't because of contract obligations with his new on-air role with FOX Sports. Certainly, few of Gordon's competitors Sunday have any doubt whatsoever that he will be competitive here. "He has the best stats of anybody or as good of stats as anybody here at this race track as far as top fives and top 10s," Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman said. "I think that he is driving the same equipment, it's not like he's in somebody else's race car. He knows what he's driving, he knows the people he is driving for, so I don't see any reason why he is not one of the guys to beat." Teammate Jimmie Johnson echoed the prevailing sentiment in the garage. With both Stewart and Gordon in their final Brickyard, there will be plenty to watch. "It is big, the way it worked out obviously, but to have Tony Stewart in his final race, Jeff Gordon in his final race -- Part Two, it is a big time," Johnson said. "Jeff has always been so well supported by the fans at this race track. I can only imagine how loud they are going to be at driver intros -- and how bonkers this place would go if he is able to win." RELATED: Stewart would consider substitute role in '17 In another nod to the team's regular driver, track crews took down a sign the Speedway had placed above the No. 88 team's garage that identified Jeff Gordon as the driver of the car instead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon insisted that it was Earnhardt's car regardless of who was driving it this weekend. Gordon looked good in opening practice for Sunday's Brickyard 400 with the ninth-fastest speed, and no one has proven himself better here. "I'm certainly a little overwhelmed over everything that has happened over the last week," Gordon said. "But, most of all, I'm proud to be here and help his team out. This is his team. What we want most is to have (Earnhardt) healthy and strong for the long-term. Today is a great sign of things to come for him. "For me, my goal is to come here and give this team the best effort that I can, and give them the best result ... hopefully a good one. So really, this is just me helping out the organization. We will see what happens on Sunday. If we are out there having fun, and put a good result together, I can tell you what is in it for me is to make that team proud, and not let them down." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Larson: 'I would love to run the Indy 500'
Kyle Larson talks about the potential of running the Indianapolis 500 in the future.
Johnson looks to cure cold spell at the Brickyard
RELATED: Johnson through the years " See all the winners at the Brickyard SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Jimmie Johnson looked comfortable and calm taking questions from the media Friday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion's No. 48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet was fastest in the day's opening practice here and seventh quickest in final practice. The historically tough 2.5-mile track has been a positive outlet for Johnson. His success at Indianapolis – four wins – is undeniable, but it is also sporadic. And overdue. Johnson won three times at Indy in four years between 2006-2009 – a mark both unmatched and highly impressive. He added a fourth victory in 2012 and then nearly a fifth in 2013 when he finished runner-up. Only Jeff Gordon (five wins) has won more here. The flip side of the success is that three times Johnson has finished 36th or worse. He was 14th and 15th in his last two races at Indy. And his need to add another win here in Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is as much about turning his season around in pursuit of a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title as it is attaining Indianapolis-specific glory. "We love big events, that's one thing about Hendrick Motorsports,’" Johnson allowed, smiling. "We look at the 500 and the 400 and all big races as an opportunity; and are excited for it." Johnson was the first driver in 2016 to collect multiple trophies winning the second week of the season at Atlanta and then again three weeks later at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. But in the last 10 races, he's crashed out three times and had only a single top-10 finish – a third-place finish at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 . In fact, four of his finishes in this stretch have been 25th or worse. Before a 12th- place finish from the pole position at New Hampshire last week, Johnson uncharacteristically crashed out in back-to-back races with a 35th- place showing at Daytona and 32nd at Kentucky. He's currently eighth in the points standings, however, he is fourth on the Chase Grid because of his multiple wins. "I guess last week is kind of a good example of some of the difficulties we've had," Johnson said of New Hampshire. "We had competitive cars all running in the top 11 and in one corner we lose two of them. "It's been tough, but I think we have a good foundation to build from. We have respectable finishes in our cars, but nobody wants to be a decent finisher or a respectable finisher. We all want to dominate. And, we're working real hard on all fronts; from our engine shop, chassis shop, aero, teams, pit stops, and all of it." Contrary to what other teams may be experiencing, Johnson said it's not that his team isn't trying hard enough to return to form. It may be they are trying too hard. "And that's the problem," Johnson said. "I've been at 110 percent and you make too many mistakes there. And I think our team has, too. So, that's one thing we have recognized and we're going to really try to dial back and make sure that we run where we should. "If we have a fifth place car that week, let's be sure that we at least finish fifth. Maybe there's some opportunities to give us a chance to win, but stop making mistakes. And, I've got to do that, first and foremost." Johnson said he was even open to having the team’s "new driver" Jeff Gordon give feedback on the cars since Gordon – who retired last year – is filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week at Indianapolis and next week at Pocono while Earnhardt continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. "We're months in, and I feel like all the drivers have expressed where we could be stronger and what we might need, but a fresh set of eyes and I guess it is kind of biased, but versus the four drivers in unbiased evaluation of the car and where we stack-up and how the engine feels compared to others," Johnson said of possibly getting Gordon's opinion. "And Jeff has had a unique opportunity to see the sport from a totally different angle; and certainly watching cars and I know he's formed some opinions watching other race cars and where the Toyotas might beat us. So, to be able to sit in the car and look for those opportunities and moments, I think will be helpful for us, for sure." The recent struggles are certainly an unfamiliar position for team owner Rick Hendrick, who was just selected for the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. He's grown much more accustomed to winning championships or at the very least challenging for titles. Recently his team has been challenging simply to finish a race. But righting the course is something everyone expects. And the trick is doing it sooner than later. "It seems like when it rains, it pours," Hendrick said. "I think at Daytona we wrecked three or four cars. And then we went to Kentucky and wrecked again. We were in good shape in New Hampshire, but wrecked again. I've been doing this long enough that you can't stay on top forever. You have to work hard to get back. And I think we've made a lot of improvements. "I think we'll see some, hopefully, this weekend. But, you never like having a curveball. This is kind of one of the toughest things you have to go through as one of your star drivers can't drive. And so, the encouraging news is that everybody just stepped up and is working harder. "We're determined to work in every area from the engine to the chassis and aero and everything. And the teams are excited. It's kind of our 'refuse to lose' belief. But we didn't need this, for sure. We didn't need the wrecks we've gone through. Our place looks like a salvage yard where all of the cars have been tore up. But that just makes us dig harder." And Johnson appears ready to lead the charge. "We're all highly inspired to get back on top of the mountain, that is where we feel we should be at Hendrick Motorsports," Johnson said. "We've just got to clean it up on all fronts. Hopefully we have it all together here and can win."
Hamlin returns to site of Daytona 500 win, eyes sweep
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Since Denny Hamlin first arrived in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full time in 2006 he had an immediate positive relationship with Daytona International Speedway winning his first-ever Budweiser Shootout as a rookie in the days leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 . Since then, Hamlin has won that event two more times including this February -- just 8 days before he pulled off an amazing last lap pass to claim his maiden Daytona 500 victory in the closest finish in the race's great 58-year history. A win in Saturday's Coke Zero 400 would give Hamlin another unique claim to Daytona fame -- a season sweep of the Sprint Cup events plus a win in the Shootout giving him three victories (including both points races) at the track in a single season. Only Bobby Allison (1982) and Fireball Roberts (1962) have swept both Daytona premier series races and won an exhibition event too. Jimmie Johnson (2013), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) are the other drivers to win both Sprint Cup races in a year. "It was about five years ago that something happened on the restrictor plate race tracks where I just -- it clicked and I got it," Hamlin said Thursday. "I can name a few instances it's really helped me, but I don't want to necessarily say that, but I just feel comfortable. I feel like I know what I'm doing and the results have showed it." The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota hasn't finished worse than sixth in his last five Daytona starts, including a runner-up in the 2014 Daytona 500 and a third place showing in last year's Coke Zero 400 -- a streak of success even better than one of the track's true superstars, Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt has a pair of Cup race wins during that same five-race span -- including the 2014 Daytona 500 and this race last year -- but finished 36th in this year's Daytona 500 and 14th in this race in 2014. Despite the impressive numbers, Hamlin is well aware that his current success streak is a rare outcome at a restrictor plate track. "Eventually, we're going to get in a wreck," Hamlin allowed with a slight smile. "I think we did at -- yeah, we did at Talladega, but I've just been very fortunate on superspeedways and the bad finishes that I've had it's not because something I feel like I did. It was something that I could caught up in, so I've been fortunate. "It's been a great battle with the 88 ( Dale Earnhardt Jr .) probably the last four years with me and him. There's been a lot of one-two finishes with us and hopefully I'd love to complete the sweep winning the Unlimited, the 500 and the July race. I feel like I gift basket-ed him that dual win on Thursday this year, so I'd like to get him back here in July." A win this weekend would be key not just in Daytona historical context. Other than a fantastic runner-up finish to Tony Stewart on the Sonoma Raceway road course last week, Hamlin hasn't posted the kind of consistently good showings he might have liked. Especially with the way the season began. In the last seven races, Hamlin has three top-10s and three finishes of 30th or worse -- two of those sub-par finishes, a result of crashes. But just looking at Hamlin's face and his demeanor, it's easy to tell he brings an unmistakable confidence to Daytona Beach. And he's earned it honestly. He'll start ninth in the Coke Zero 400 -- surrounded by all his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates who qualified second ( Carl Edwards ), third ( Kyle Busch ) and seventh ( Matt Kenseth ). Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr ., who Hamlin edged for the Daytona win in February, will start 15th. "Anytime we can work together, I try for sure," Hamlin said of his Toyota teammates. "I don't know that it was a plot to take out one car by any means. I thought we showed a lot of speed with just our cars in practice looking at lap times with what we would run as a group of five. Simple math says what the pack was going to run and I knew that if we could stay in a line and commit to each other, it would be tough for others to pass us. It worked out well. "Legitimately there were five Toyotas out to win on the final lap and that's really all we could have asked for. It was something that was in the works for a long time and it was executed perfectly by our whole organization and it worked out. Obviously any time you are successful like that you try to repeat it, but the competitors have a lot of say in that, so there are others who are going to have issue with what our plan is." "Really this track has been very good to me throughout my career," Hamlin said. "We hope to complete the sweep this weekend."
NASCAR sees investment growth from FORTUNE 100 brands
The list of blue-chip brands involved in NASCAR continues to grow. According to a recent internal analysis, the number of FORTUNE 100 companies investing in NASCAR has increased 5 percent year-over-year. Also, the number of FORTUNE 500 companies investing in the sport has either grown or sustained year-over-year since 2012. Overall, more than one in four FORTUNE 500 companies integrate NASCAR into their marketing strategies. A charter agreement with race teams, five-year track sanctioning deals and a bevy of new or renewed long-term partnerships have contributed to NASCAR's business growth over the last several years. FORTUNE 500 companies Auto-Owners Insurance, Stanley DeWalt, Fastenal, O'Reilly Auto Parts and Axalta have all renewed with or entered the sport this season, highlighting the momentum across the industry. Repucom's SponsorLink survey shows NASCAR surpasses all other sports properties in fan sponsor consideration. Seven out of 10 NASCAR fans are loyal to a sponsor's brand when it supports the sport, and three out of four NASCAR fans would consider a sponsor's brand. While being a FORTUNE 500 company is the gold standard of success for publicly traded companies in the United States, there are several global corporations involved in NASCAR that weren't included in the analysis because they do not meet FORTUNE's criteria. A number of blue-chip brands significantly involved in the sport did not qualify, including Mars, MillerCoors, Shell and Toyota.
Busch picks up Coors Light Pole Award in search of Brickyard defense
RELATED: Full starting lineup " See the full field SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A sweep at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nothing new to Kyle Busch. But this year, he started early. With a lap at 184.634 mph (48.745 seconds) in the final round of Saturday's knockout qualifying, Busch claimed the pole position for Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Earlier in the day, the driver who swept both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races at Indy last year earned the pole award ahead of the heat races prior to Saturday afternoon’s Lilly Diabetes 250 XFINITY race. But the Sprint Cup pole that completed the Saturday sweep was special, because it was the first for Busch at the vaunted Brickyard. "I haven't been great at qualifying here, but the guys gave me a great piece this time around, and I'm real pumped about that," said Busch, who claimed his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the 19th of his career. "We're starting first in both of these (races), and hopefully we can end that way. "It means a lot (to win the pole). It's definitely pretty special to be running the way that we're running and to have the success that we've had here the last couple of years at Indy, and I’d love nothing more than to try to win here again." Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was .023 seconds faster than the No. 19 of teammate Carl Edwards (184.547 mph). "I was happy with my lap," Edwards said. "I was surprised Kyle got me. That was a good lap for him – I mean, that was a good lap that he ran because I felt like my lap was pretty good – but, yeah, it's frustrating right now to be second because it's so close, and the pole position is obviously huge here. "But by tomorrow, the race gets started and I think I'll be pretty happy with that starting spot, so just good job by all my guys." Making his last appearance at Indy as a Sprint Cup Series driver, Tony Stewart earned the third starting spot with a lap at 184.328 mph and knew exactly where he had lost critical speed. "I just wish I could do lap three (final round) one more time and not clip the apron in (Turn) 4," Stewart said. "I think we could have been on the pole." RELATED: Stewart discusses his qualifying effort Denny Hamlin qualified fourth, giving JGR three of the top four spots. Brad Keselowski in fifth has the top Ford. Ryan Newman , Kevin Harvick , Martin Truex Jr. , Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson will start from positions six through 10, respectively. The time trials were a disappointment for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, who failed to place a car in the top 12. Jimmie Johnson ran the fastest lap of the day in the first of three rounds, touring the 2.5-mile speedway in 48.435 seconds (185.816 mph). But the six-time series champion failed to advance beyond the second round, losing the 12th and final position to Kurt Busch by .008 seconds. Johnson will start 13th, Chase Elliott 15th and Jeff Gordon , subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. , who is out with concussion-like symptoms, claimed the 21st spot on the grid. "I felt really comfortable right there," said Gordon, who was 15th fastest in the first round. "I feel like today I’m much calmer than I was yesterday (in practice). Usually, my heart is beating more for qualifying than it is for practice, but that wasn't the case. "So, today I feel more relaxed and comfortable in the car. I hope to feel the same way tomorrow. Tomorrow's challenge is going to be being around traffic, and also trying to get the balance of the car right and do that when you're by yourself as well as when you're around other cars." Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field. </p>
Gordon gets comfortable, keeps expectations 'realistic'
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Jeff Gordon was all smiles walking on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's pit road following qualifying for Sunday's Brickyard 400. The crowd cheered its approval of his 21st-place qualifying effort. Mostly they were happy for the opportunity to see the four-time NASCAR champion at work again. Gordon advanced to the second round of qualifying driving Dale Earnhardt Jr. 's No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet. And the five-time Indy winner will start his final race here from the 11th row filling in for Earnhardt, who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms. "I felt really comfortable right there," said Gordon, 44, who was asked by team owner Rick Hendrick to come out of retirement and take the wheel for Earnhardt at Indy and at Pocono Raceway next week. "I feel like today I am much calmer than I was yesterday," Gordon said. "Usually my heart's beating more for qualifying than for practice, but that wasn't the case today. "So today, I feel more relaxed and comfortable in the car and I hope to feel the same way tomorrow. Tomorrow's challenge is going to be being around traffic and trying to get the balance of the car right and do that when you're by yourself as well as around other cars." Gordon hasn't driven a Sprint Cup Series car since retiring at the end of the 2015 season and only had a pair of practice sessions Friday to prepare for qualifying and the race. The team used his old seat and steering wheel in the car and Gordon only arrived from a family vacation in France mid-week. "For the most part, all the work is done," Gordon said. "We did our practice yesterday, we did our de-brief with drivers and crew chiefs last night and we qualified today. "Every time we're on track we're gathering information and learning. We'll continue to talk about it, but that's about all we can do moving forward. Those guys will be working hard on pit strategy for the race. But for the most part, the work is done for me other than thinking of some things I could tell Greg. "The work all begins when the green flag drops." While this will be the first time in Gordon's celebrated career he won't be steering the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick, there was an unmistakable sense of excitement about the weekend's opportunity. In what was originally his final Indy start -- last year -- Gordon scored his worst-ever finish of 42nd. In a sense, this time filling in for his good friend and former teammate Earnhardt also affords him the chance to improve that career note, too. "My expectations are very realistic," Gordon said. "I'm approaching this the same way I've approached any race I've ever been in. I drive the car into the corner and the car gives me feedback and if it feels good , I drive it harder. If it doesn't feel good I find a way to manage it until we can make adjustments. "My goal is to make the car go as fast as it can go. Each time on track I feel like I'm getting better. This is a steep learning curve, to be off the track this long and then just jump in here. But luckily, I have a great race car and a great race team that's going to help me get through it." </p>
Dale Jr. tweets update: 'I sensed improvement'
RELATED: Dale Jr. injury timeline " Views of Gordon behind the No. 88 SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. took to social media Friday morning, updating his fans on his condition as he sits out his second consecutive race since being diagnosed with "concussion-like symptoms." 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. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 22, 2016 No determination has been made concerning Earnhardt's return to competition. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, team owner Rick Hendrick said an appearance at the team's headquarters in Concord, North Carolina, earlier this week by his driver was a good sign. "Wednesday he came by the shop, and we got to visit," Hendrick said. "He looks good ; he is encouraged. … We're really excited. He is in great spirits." Hendrick, whose HMS organization fields entries for drivers Jimmie Johnson , Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne in addition to Earnhardt Jr., said Earnhardt is eager to get back in the car, but is also following doctors' orders. "He wants to race," Hendrick said, "but he also knows the regime they have him on will get him right for a long time. He's following doctors' orders but I can tell he is getting antsy. But he is going to do what they say." Earnhardt initially visited doctors prior to this month's race at Kentucky for what he thought was a sinus infection. Eventually, however, it was determined his condition was likely the result of an impact (or impacts) in recent races. As a result, he was not cleared to return to competition. Alex Bowman , who has competed for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team this season in the XFINITY Series, was tabbed to fill in for the team last weekend at New Hampshire, where he finished 26th. Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is taking over the driving duties for this weekend's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard at IMS (3 p.m., NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He is also scheduled to be in the car next week when the series moves to Pocono Raceway. It is the second time Earnhardt has been sidelined for a concussion or concussion-like symptoms. He sat out two races in 2012 following a hard crash during a test at Kansas Speedway. "I really enjoyed spending time with him Wednesday," Hendrick said. "He misses this. He misses his team. He went to see his team. He saw the guys and it really lifted them. "I think between Jeff agreeing to drive the car and Junior walking in the shop, the team is really excited. Jeff's situation with our company, everybody there knows him; and when some unknown person is going to get in the car, or clearly not anyone of the talent that Jeff has here at Indy, so that excited the team. But more than anything, when (Earnhardt) walked in that building it just lifted everybody up. So, we're really excited. Everybody is there for Junior and his health is number one priority. But we feel good about where we are right now." It was also announced by HMS officials earlier this week that Earnhardt had "underwent further evaluation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program." Gordon has not competed since stepping away from driving at the conclusion of the 2015 season. He is a five-time winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at IMS, making him the winningest NASCAR wheelman at the track.
Larson cooks up Eldora confidence, targets Indy
RELATED: Eldora's big night in photos ROSSBURG, Ohio -- While the differences between Eldora Speedway, a dirt-based short track/slice of heaven, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a relatively flat, wide and paved 2.5 miles of paradise, couldn't be more stark in contrast, there could be something that Wednesday night's Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby winner Kyle Larson will take with him two hours due west to "The Brickyard" -- c onfidence. "Any time you can win, it helps your confidence, for sure," Larson said after picking up his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory since 2013 in his third attempt at capturing one of the series' crown-jewel races. "Obviously it's way different; a half-mile dirt track to a 2(.5)-mile paved track, but confidence is key for any athlete." Larson has shown flashes of on-track brilliance in the Sprint Cup Series at times this season -- when given a car capable of working with him, rather than against him -- but his third full-time campaign has largely been a disappointment for a phenom still in search of his first premier series victory. Wednesday's landmark win, coupled with a successful recent test at one of auto racing's handful of race track meccas have the young driver seemingly destined for a successful weekend at IMS, riding a wave of momentum and increased faith in himself and his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet team. His two top-10 finishes in two Brickyard starts don't hurt, either. "I tested Indy last week; really good test, I thought," said Larson, who is 19th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings. "Really excited about this weekend. I know our team and Hendrick engines, they have some good stuff coming in and we'll see how it goes. … "We've gotten a lot better on the Cup side since the beginning of the year. We struggled really bad; we were one of the worst cars on the race track the beginning of the year. The last few months, now, we've come close a couple times. Kansas we ran up front. About Kansas time we really turned it up and ran top five most of that race, (before we) got in a wreck. Shortly after Kansas, Larson came within an intentional move of race-winner Matt Kenseth for the victory at Dover. He chose not to -- which sparked plenty of hot takes on Twitter but was almost undeniably the right decision -- and it appeared the No. 42 squad was on the right path, but it has stumbled a bit of late. Wednesday's second-place finisher Christopher Bell called Larson "the most talented guy I've ever seen, hands down," so it's only a matter of time that his talent pushes him to Victory Lane, as long as his No. 42 Chevy has the kind of drive in it that he's looking for. According to the driver, it certainly sounds like it does. "We have speed now in our cars, our Chip Ganassi Racing cars, the past few weeks, just haven't had the luck, I guess," Larson said. "We've just gotta keep working hard. We have some good tracks coming up for us." And it all starts at Indy.