Jeff Gordon returning -- however briefly -- could end well, could not

ByRYAN MCGEE via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
July 20, 2016, 3:20 PM

&#151; -- Jeff Gordon is back.

We knew this was coming. We'd known it was coming for nearly a week. Even still, I was curious to see what my reaction would be when the official word landed on our social media timelines.

It did around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, stating that Gordon will press pause on his 8-month-old retirement to run Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis and then next weekend's race at Pocono Raceway.

The official statement from Hendrick Motorsports said that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not been cleared by medical officials as he still suffers from "concussion-like symptoms." It said he will miss at least the next two races. It reminded that Gordon owns five Brickyard wins and six Pocono victories, both records. Team owner Rick Hendrick called Gordon "a team player."

As I read it, I felt as if I'd just swallowed a bowling ball.

Please don't misunderstand. I love Jeff Gordon. I never wanted him to retire in the first place. During the 2015 season finale weekend at Homestead I twice begged him on live television to reconsider.

I reminded him of his earlier statements that we should never use "the r-word." Both times he just laughed at me. "Sorry, buddy," he said, reaching out to grab my shoulder, "You're too late. What's done is done."

Now it's undone. And with apologies to Han Solo, I have a bad feeling about this.

Why? Because that farewell at Homestead was so perfect. He contended for a championship until his last lap of his last race, battling back to finish sixth in the Axalta/Jeff's Final Ride Chevy.

His postrace news conference was beautiful and emotional. The way he left the racetrack with his family, headed out into the night and to a massive farewell party on South Beach, was even better.

Why? Because these comebacks never work out well. Like, never.

Don't get me wrong, if anyone can reverse that trend and win two races and blow people's minds, it's Jeff Gordon. He spent more than two decades rewriting the way racers have gone about their business. But history says that at best these returns from mothballs end up producing so-so stats.

Gordon is a big boy. He can handle that. There's certainly nothing he can do on the track to damage his Hall of Fame credentials. No one remembers Michael Jordan playing for the Wizards or even Bill Elliott driving that one-off Wal-Mart car.

However, that's not the potential damage I'm worried about.

I am well aware that this isn't Neil Bonnett or Larry Pearson or even 63-year-old Mario Andretti deciding to run Indy 500 hot laps (and ending up flipping six times). This isn't someone who has been gone for years or is still recovering from a near-fatal accident. He's been at the racetrack nearly every weekend this season, in the broadcast booth and perpetually walking the garage.

But it's no secret that a not-small percentage of the reasoning behind Gordon's walkaway last November was that he wanted to wrap up his driving career while he could still actually walk away.

In two weeks he will turn 45 years old, but has the back of a man twice his age. It goes through stretches where it hurts so badly he can't pick up his kids or he has to ask for assistance getting up off the ground after camping out with his son.

He has long admitted worrying that he was just one big hit from creating a situation that couldn't be fixed with strength training, stretching or meds.

Indianapolis and Pocono are places that like to hand out very big hits.

They also like to hand out very big trophies. Should Gordon win one of those -- and he could -- it would be just another chapter in his unparalleled motorsports legacy. It would make headlines around the world. It would pump happiness into an increasingly frustrating situation for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his team and his fans.

It would be a tremendous feel-good story.

I just wish I felt better about it.

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