INDIANAPOLIS — Jeff Gordon always expected to be at this weekend’s Brickyard 400.

The tricky part was figuring out his role.

One week after Gordon asked his publicist to delay a long-planned announcement that he would drive the pace car before a race he won five times, the four-time Cup champion returned to the 2.5-mile oval as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement and the top attraction in Sunday’s race.

“When (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) said to me, ‘Are you coming to Indianapolis?’ I said ‘Yes I am. I am coming on Saturday,’ ” Gordon said. “He said, ‘Well, you better bring your uniform.’ ”

The improbable comeback takes place just eight months after his official retirement.

He’s back for only one reason: Earnhardt continues to battle concussion-like symptoms and has not yet been cleared by doctors to climb back into the car.

When Earnhardt took himself out of the No. 88 last weekend, Hendrick contacted his long-time star who was vacationing in France. Gordon agreed to pinch-hit when he returned. Gordon then texted publicist Jon Edwards, who contacted the speedway 15 minutes before the scheduled announcement.

Gordon is the only five-time Brickyard winner and can become the first driver to ever win six times at Indy.

He’s not eligible to make the Chase – even with a win – because he hasn’t competed in enough races. But if the No. 88 car makes NASCAR’s playoffs and Earnhardt is not cleared to drive, Hendrick could keep Gordon, who kept the door open to running more races if needed.

Earnhardt’s recovery appears to be progressing.

“Today is the 1st day in many that I sensed improvement,” he wrote Friday on Twitter. “Seen small gains during my physical therapy as well. Light at the end of the tunnel.”

For the Rainbow Warrior, this week’s pace has been frantic.

He flew to New York on Tuesday, then hopped on Hendrick’s plane, bound for North Carolina as Earnhardt was seeing doctors in Pittsburgh.

After landing in Charlotte, Gordon was whisked to team headquarters for a seat fitting.

On Wednesday, the day it was announced Earnhardt would miss two more races, Gordon had a physical, applied for driver’s credentials and met with crew chief Greg Ives. Gordon spent the rest of the week watching videos, researching data and working in the simulator before practicing Friday.