Jeff Gordon always expected to be at this weekend’s Brickyard 400.
The tricky part was figuring out his role.
One week after Gordon asked his publicist to delay a long-planned announcement that he would drive the pace car before a race he won five times, the four-time Cup champion returned to the 2.5-mile oval as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement and the top attraction in Sunday’s race.
“When (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) said to me, `Are you coming to Indianapolis?’ I said `Yes I am. I am coming on Saturday,“’ Gordon said. “He said, `Well, you better bring your uniform.“’
The improbable comeback takes place just a short drive away from his childhood home in Pittsboro, Indiana, and eight months after his official retirement.
He’s back for only one reason: Earnhardt continues to battle concussion-like symptoms and has not been cleared by doctors to climb back into the car.
When Earnhardt took himself out of the No. 88 last weekend, Hendrick contacted his long-time star who was vacationing in France. Gordon agreed to pinch-hit when he returned. Gordon then texted publicist Jon Edwards, who contacted the speedway 15 minutes before the scheduled announcement.
For the Rainbow Warrior, this week’s pace has been every bit as frantic.
He flew to New York on Tuesday, then hopped on Hendrick’s plane, bound for North Carolina as Earnhardt was seeing doctors in Pittsburgh.
After landing in Charlotte, Gordon was whisked to team headquarters for a seat fitting. On Wednesday, the day it was announced Earnhardt would miss two more races, Gordon had a physical, applied for driver’s credentials and met with crew chief Greg Ives. Gordon spent the rest of the week watching Go-Pro videos, researching data and working in the simulator before practicing Friday. Qualifying will be held Saturday.
When he arrived at the track Friday, throngs of fans lined up to catch one more glimpse of Gordon.
“This is certainly the last thing I thought was going to happen, but I knew it was Indianapolis,” Gordon said. “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.”
Nico Rosberg of Mercedes posted by far the fastest lap during the second practice session for the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.
Teammate Lewis Hamilton was unhurt after crashing sideways into a barrier of rubber tires, Mercedes said. Hamilton was able to drive the car back to the pit lane and later returned to the team garage after a medical checkup.
Mercedes said Hamilton’s car would be fully stripped to be checked out, but jokingly noted it “appears to bounce rather well.”
Hamilton, who set the pace in the morning practice, also had the fastest time before crashing at turn 11, about 13 minutes into the afternoon session. Rosberg quickly bettered Hamilton’s mark with a time of 1 minute, 20.435 seconds, the only driver below 1:21.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was second, 0.595 seconds behind the championship leader, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the 2015 Hungaroring winner, finishing third.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull was fourth and Hamilton, despite completing only four laps before his accident, was fifth.
Rosberg has 168 points halfway through the 21-race season, one point ahead of two-time defending world champion Hamilton. Mercedes has won nine of the first 10 races this season and 41 of the last 48.
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