The text messages were succinct and conveyed an urgency of a situation that had unexpectedly developed and needed immediate resolving.
"Call me!," Rick Hendrick had texted Jeff Gordon repeatedly, who was on a family vacation in the South of France. Upon reading the texts the 44-year-old retired Gordon knew immediately something was up, turned to his wife Ingrid and said, "Oh boy, here we go."
What the NASCAR team owner wanted was for Gordon to come out of retirement and fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- the sport's most popular driver had been experiencing concussion-like symptoms and his availability was in question.
At first Gordon thought Hendrick was joking. After an explanation of the circumstances Gordon quickly realized this was no elaborate prank.
Earnhardt missed last week's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Alex Bowman substituting. On Wednesday, it was announced Earnhardt would sit out Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the following week at Pocono Raceway, with Gordon taking the wheel of Earnhardt's No. 88 car in both events and possibly beyond if needed.
"I'm certainly a little overwhelmed over everything that has happened over the last week," Gordon said Friday at Indianapolis. "But, most of all, I'm proud to be here and help his team out. This is (Earnhardt's) team. What we want most is to have him healthy and strong for the long term."
Gordon traveled from France to New York City on Tuesday, then immediately hopped on a Hendrick-owned plane to head to Hendrick Motorsports' shop located in Concord, N.C. In the days since Gordon has spent time with Earnhardt's crew chief, Greg Ives, and extensively used a Chevrolet simulator to re-acclimate himself to driving.
"If we're racing simulators, I feel like I've got a shot at winning this race," said Gordon, who served as a Fox Sports analyst during the first half of the NASCAR schedule.
Although he had retired just eight months before at the conclusion of the 2015 season, there were still some things Gordon had to familiarize with, including a new aerodynamic rules package and a digital dashboard, which he's never used previously.
"The last two days, I don't think I've ever put as much effort in to preparing for a race," Gordon said. "That process itself has been really interesting, exciting and fun and has me pretty fired up to get in the car and feel what it is like to be in there."
Returning to racing was not a scenario Gordon nor Hendrick envisioned. Nor had they discussed Gordon's availability in case Hendrick Motorsports ever found itself in need of an emergency driver.
But Gordon said his loyalty to the team he drove for from 1993-2015, amassing four Cup Series championships and 93 wins, was such that he couldn't say no to Hendrick's request. He readily accepted, not because he wanted to, but because the team he spent his entire career with (and remains an equity partner in) needed him.
"I didn't even have to think twice about it," Gordon said. "When Rick calls, he has that confidence in me and asks 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.
"Really, this is just me helping out the organization."
That Gordon gets to compete again at Indianapolis made the offer all the more enticing. Having grown up in nearby Pittsboro, Ind., the track is his favorite and one he dreamed of racing at during his formative years. He won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and is the track-record holder in wins, top five and top-10 finishes and laps led.
"I felt like if there was one place that I was capable of doing [coming back and being competitive], it would be here," Gordon said.
Gordon believes the biggest challenge won't be so much the track or the car, but proper hydration as the forecast is calling for a temperate in the upper 90s on Sunday.
"The most important thing for me is to just make sure hydration-wise is to get through the race in good shape," Gordon said. "I'm old and not in the kind of shape that I was. But, of any track that I can think of coming to, heat or no heat, and come and do a good job for this team, it is right here in Indianapolis."
Gordon hopes his fill-in duties don't extend past Pocono and that Earnhardt is medically cleared to return for the Aug. 7 at Watkins Glen. As for expectations on Sunday, Gordon wasn't aiming for a particular finish, just a solid result that allows the No. 88 team to leave with a good points day and remain in contention for a playoff spot.
"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," Gordon said. "There are certainly going to be challenges this weekend, but I feel like I am capable of doing it."