Shortly before Jeff Gordon took his first laps in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 car Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR's most popular driver provided an encouraging update on his health.
Earnhardt, 41, has been dealing with concussion-like symptoms that have caused him to have issues with balance and nausea, sidelining him for last week's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the next two races, Sunday at Indianapolis and July 31 at Pocono Raceway.
There is no timetable on when Earnhardt may resume racing, but a tweet on Friday indicated that his comeback could happen sooner rather than later.
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
Alex Bowman, an Xfinity Series driver, filled in for Earnhardt at New Hampshire, while Gordon is behind the wheel at Indianapolis and Pocono. Gordon had retired following the conclusion of the 2015 season, but was persuaded by team owner Rick Hendrick to substitute until Earnhardt is medically cleared to return.
The 44-year-old Gordon won four championships and 93 races driving for Hendrick Motorsports from 1993-2015. Since retiring last November, he worked for Fox Sports as an analyst with the network broadcasting the first half of the NASCAR schedule.
"I'm proud to be here and help his team out," Gordon said Friday. "This is (Earnhardt's) team. What we want most is to have him healthy and strong for the long term. Today is a great sign of things to come for him."
Earnhardt stopped by Hendrick Motorsports headquarters in Concord, N.C., on Wednesday. It was a visit that left his team owner encouraged by the progress he's made.
"He looks good. He's sharp," Hendrick said. "So I'm excited about getting him back. ... I really enjoyed spending time with him. He misses this. He misses his team. He went to see his team.
"When he walked in that building it just lifted everybody up. So, we're really excited. Everybody is there for Junior and his health is No. 1 priority. But, we feel good about where we are right now."