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;
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."
GarageCam highlights Gordon's return at Indy
GarageCam host Matthew Dillner walks through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to capture the moment Jeff Gordon climbed into the car as a fill-in driver.
RECAP: Busch is boss at The Brickyard
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman recaps the Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that saw Kyle Busch dominate the competition and Justin Allgaier take home the Dash 4 Cash bonus check.
Gordon talks for the first time at Indianapolis
Jeff Gordon describes his feelings about getting back into the car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and talks about how he was asked by Rick Hendrick to be the substitute driver.
Busch at his best at The Brickyard
Kyle Busch celebrates in Victory Lane following the Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
'We left the pole out there,' Stewart qualifies third at Brickyard
Tony Stewart says he left a pole run on the table at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but says the heat and the way his race weekend is going for the No. 14 team is 'exactly what he wanted.'
Kyle Busch tops the heap in final Indy practice
RELATED: Practice 1 results " Final practice results Kyle Busch closed out final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice atop the leaderboard Friday afternoon, recovering from a spin earlier in the day and landing the fastest speed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch, the defending race winner, lapped the track with a best speed of 184.619 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota as teams made mock qualifying runs ahead of Saturday's time trials. It marked an improvement over his 12th-best time during Friday's opening 85-minute session at the 2.5-mile track. During that opening session, Busch's No. 18 Camry slightly touched the car of Patrick Carpentier as they raced side- by -side in Turn 2. Busch, the defending series champion, spun out without making further contact. Former Brickyard winner Kevin Harvick registered the second-fastest lap, pushing the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet to a lap of 184.268 mph. Kyle Larson , Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards completed the top five in the final practice before Sunday's Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Jeff Gordon was 25th-fastest in his second stint of practice ahead of his first Sprint Cup start of the season. The four-time series champion notched a 180.375-mph lap in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. , who is sidelined for the second straight week by concussion-like symptoms. Tony Stewart , prepping for his final scheduled Sprint Cup start at his home-state track, was 24th-fastest (180.505 mph) in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet. Coors Light Pole Qualifying is set Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN). Sunday's race will be the 20th of 36 points-paying races this season. Johnson sets pace in opening Indy practice Jimmie Johnson soared to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaderboard Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an opening practice that featured the return of Jeff Gordon to competition. Johnson pushed the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet to a best lap of 184.185 mph around the 2.5-mile track. He'll seek his fifth Indianapolis win in Sunday's Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Former Indy pole winner Denny Hamlin was second-fastest in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota at 182.563 mph, a sizable .434 seconds off Johnson's pace. Casey Mears (180.346 mph), Kevin Harvick (179.845 mph) and Ryan Newman (179.784 mph) completed the top five in the 85-minute opening session. Gordon clocked the ninth-fastest speed, landing a 179.376 mph lap in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. He's scheduled to make his first Sprint Cup start of the season Sunday as a replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Tony Stewart , scheduled to make his final Brickyard start in what's to be his last full-time season, was eighth-fastest at 179.655 mph in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet. The native Hoosier will be vying for his third Brickyard victory in Sunday's 400-miler. Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch, also the defending race winner, was 12th-fastest but recovered from a spin at the one-hour mark of the session. Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota made a prolonged slide out of Turn 2 after making contact with the Go FAS Racing No. 32 Ford of Patrick Carpentier. Carpentier, 44, walked over to Busch's garage stall later in the session to issue an apology for crowding his pass attempt. Carpentier was 39th-fastest of the 41 drivers entered during first practice. &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;
Justin Allgaier earns Dash 4 Cash bonus check at Indy
RELATED: Full race results " Standings " Chase Grid SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Justin Allgaier won the season's fourth and final Dash 4 Cash paycheck Saturday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Allgaier finished fifth in the XFINTY Series' Lilly Diabetes 250, which was won by Sprint Cup Series regular Kyle Busch. But the effort was one position ahead of Allgaier's JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler , and that was enough to earn the special $100,000 incentive. The race for the bonus money got intense in the final laps with Allgaier passing Elliott in Turn 4 on the last restart with two laps remaining to take the position and take the incentive money. "Under that last caution, I was thinking, 'Hey I'm racing a teammate' and that changes the game," Allgaier said. "Just knowing he was a teammate and had the same stuff I did, how do you force the pass? I was fortunate. We got behind him coming off Turn 4. ... It was the only time today I went through Turn 4 perfectly and was able to get next to him and then pass him. "Everything had to come down to that perfect moment. Just very fortunate to get up here with this check." Only full-time XFINITY Series championship competitors are eligible to collect in the four-race Dash 4 Cash incentive. Four drivers are set through two 20-lap heat races before a 60-lap main event. Allgaier, Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones qualified to be participants at Indy. Series rookie Jones won the Dash 4 Cash money twice ( at Bristol and Dover) this season while Ty Dillon (Richmond) won once. Jones' two victories would have been enough to put him in the XFINITY Series' inaugural Chase for the championship this year, but he earned a position anyway as the race winner in the Bristol race. Allgaier, who drives the No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet, joked after the race that he absolutely planned to keep the oversized check recognizing the Dash winner. It was the first time he'd won the award. "Been trying to get up here and hold one of these checks up here and finally got to today," Allgaier said. "This one goes home with me and will go on the wall for sure. Really proud to be able to hold one of these checks up." The race result for Allgaier was also significant in the big picture, moving him up two positions in the XFINITY Series standings to fourth place, only 16 points behind third place Ty Dillon . Suarez still leads the championship by 14 points over Sadler entering the next race -- an XFINITY stand-alone event next Saturday at Iowa Speedway.
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 lineup
Kyle Busch will lead off the start of the North Carolina Education Lottery 200