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Jeff Gordon says he will keep driving No. 88 car if needed

LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon wouldn't speculate on whether he would continue driving the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 car after this week at Pocono Raceway, but he said he feels good enough to continue racing if needed.

Gordon views his role as a substitute driver as a temporary one, but just how temporary is still to be determined. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is missing his third consecutive race battling balance and nausea likely form concussions, and the four-time Cup champion is in his second week coming out of retirement as a substitute.

"I will be here as long as they need me," Gordon said Friday after practice at Pocono Raceway. "I say that very loosely. ... Will it be more? I don't know, but I'm just thankful that the team believes in me and that gives me confidence in myself."

Turning 45 next week, Gordon battled back issues throughout the latter stages of his career, which had appeared to end after the 2015 season with 93 wins in 797 starts. He said he certainly felt it Monday and Tuesday after a 13th-place finish at Indianapolis.

"I fought threw it the last few years," said Gordon, an equity owner in Hendrick who feels the time in the car can help him in his new advisory role. "I can fight through it longer if I have to. I prefer not to. I am looking at this as a very temporary thing. ... I wish Dale a speedy recovery. I'd like him to be back in the car.

"But at the same time if he's not, I feel like each time I'm in the car I'll be more confident and comfortable to get better results."

Gordon would make his 800th start next week -- if he races -- at Watkins Glen. The series then has a week off before races Bristol, Michigan, Darlington and Richmond close out the regular season before the 10-week Chase, and Gordon refused to speculate on whether the schedule will impact the decision on Earnhardt's return.

"That's a question for Dale and a podcast," Gordon said.

On "The Dale Jr. Download" podcast on his internet radio network, Earnhardt said Monday that he would see doctors soon and have another update this Monday.

"There are certain things that you can race through, but one of the things that you cannot race through is concussion-like symptoms," Earnhardt said. "The balance deal is a critical part of being able to drive a race car. "This process is going to take a little bit longer. ... I'm not going to go against that [doctors'] advice no matter what. I can't play around at this age. And with my history, I definitely don't need to get cute."

Earnhardt's team is still eligible for the owners title through points (and any future wins) earned by substitute drivers. Gordon said that could play a role on who gets behind the wheel if Earnhardt can't return. He said there is no pressure from HMS on Earnhardt to return before he feels comfortable returning.

"I wouldn't be here in Pocono if I wasn't committed to being there for Hendrick and this team in any way that would need me," Gordon said. "There is a balance in trying to make this transition. ... There's the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points and then there is the sponsorship side of it as well.

"So far, from what Rick [Hendrick] is telling me, that seems to be me."

Gordon has talked with Earnhardt, who has done his best to stay as engaged as possible.

"He likes to FaceTime," Gordon said. "It seems like he is always on the treadmill every time I see him or talk to him. But he's just real interested in what we're up to and how's it going and things we're working on."

Earnhardt, on the podcast Monday, said he misses the interaction with his team.

"I miss the people more than the driving, to be honest with you," Earnhardt said. "The friendships and the relationships that you have at the race track are more valuable, to me, than anything."