Earnhardt is sidelined with concussion-like symptoms and won't compete in Sunday's New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). His status for future races this season remains uncertain.
Should Earnhardt have to miss next week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports already has a super sub lined up to replace him.
"If Dale is not able to go to Indianapolis, we will put Jeff Gordon in the car," said Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Doug Duchardt.
The choice is logical. Fox Sports has completed its portion of the Sprint Cup season, and Gordon's services as a booth analyst aren't required for the rest of the year. Consider also that Gordon has five victories at the Brickyard, a record for the vaunted track.
Whether Gordon returns to race at Indy, however, depends on the prognosis for Earnhardt, who was advised by doctors this week not to race at Loudon. Alex Bowman, initially contacted as a possible relief for Earnhardt before the extent of his condition was known, is driving the No. 88 Chevrolet this weekend.
"Alex came in Tuesday night to get fitted for the car," Duchardt said. "And at that time, it was in the contingency that he would have to backfill for Dale after Dale started the race.
"Dale then went and saw a team of neurologists and in the past two days has been going through some tests. (Thursday) around noon is when I found out that Dale could not be in the car for this weekend, based on their suggestion."
Earnhardt's health issues also bring an important opportunity to Bowman, who drives a limited NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule for JR Motorsports.
"Yeah, it's been a crazy 12 hours, for sure," Bowman said on Friday morning at NHMS. "I think the first time (crew chief) Greg (Ives) called me, I was at work, so I didn't even answer. But it's definitely not the circumstances that I want to get an opportunity like this. Obviously I'm hoping Dale feels better, but at the same time, it's the best opportunity I've ever had in my life.
"I'm ready to just plug into their program and do my job. I'll give them the best feedback I can and go from there. I'm really confident in the whole team. Obviously, they bring great race cars to the track every weekend, so if I just do my job, I feel like we would be good to plug into it."
Duchardt declined to speculate whether Gordon would substitute for Earnhardt in additional races, if necessary.
NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP FOR EDWARDS
But that was before he learned to go with the flow - or the "wave," as he called it.
Edwards won his first race with JGR in the 12th event of 2015, the Coca-Cola 600, and didn't visit Victory Lane again until Labor Day weekend at Darlington.
Within the first 18 races of 2015, Edwards won back-to-back at Bristol and Richmond and has posted 12 top 10s, including a second-place finish last week at Kentucky Speedway. Collectively, JGR drivers have won seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this year, with affiliated Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. adding another.
"The beginning of last year, I didn't expect the changeover to JGR... it was a bigger deal than I expected," Edwards said on Fridayafternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "I tried a little too hard to begin with and made some moves and mistakes that I hadn't made in a long time. I settled in and feel like I'm doing a better job now.
"I'm riding the wave that is JGR. These guys, they've been working a long time to get to this point, and I'm the lucky recipient of that hard work. Right now you can just look at the scoreboard every week, or the speed charts - our Toyotas are really fast. I can't point to one thing. I think overall it's TRD (Toyota Racing Development), JGR - all the folks that do this and us teammates working together that gives us those results."
--Martin Truex Jr. was fastest in opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, turning a lap at 133.562 mph. Fellow Toyota drivers Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were second and third, respectively...
--Bobby Santos won Friday afternoon's NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at NHMS, beating Eric Goodale to the finish line by .127 seconds. Veteran Ron Silk was third, .698 seconds back. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman held his own against the modified stars, finishing 10th.