Jeff Gordon battled through rigid pain throughout the weekend and into the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, though, the four-time champion proved his toughness, leading eight laps en route to a seventh place finish.
Gordon, 42, was irritated with back spasms on Saturday forcing him from competing in on-track action and also making him call-up, if needed, replacement driver Regan Smith.
However, being the fierce competitor he’s become, Gordon received therapy before NASCAR’s longest race on Sunday and strapped into his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet without regret and proved his toughness.
“I don’t want to give up an opportunity to win,” Gordon explained. “We still need to go out there and try to win races. It’s nice to have a backup plan and I appreciate having Regan Smith being there. But I had no intentions of ever getting out of that car unless I was in excruciating pain and going to cause myself long term effects.”
Gordon, who could have taken a medical exemption if unable to compete, felt it was necessary to compete and earn more respect from his organization.
“If anything, me staying in the car going through what we went through is only going to earn more respect with this team,” Gordon expressed. “It was my job to get myself better and in position to go and run that whole race.”
Regardless of toughness or earning respect, Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, realized that Gordon was in pain, and admitted some apprehension towards his driver and long-time friend.
“I know he was in a lot of pain,” Rick Hendrick said. “I was worried. Alan (Gustafson) and I’ve talked and the team’s talked about it.”
Gordon, who’s earned 89 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories, including one at Kansas Speedway three weeks ago, explained the pain worsened when he was tense, like on a qualifying lap; he credits the flare up due to bulging disks in his back.
“When I went to make that real aggressive qualifying lap, those tense tight muscles in me, pushing the brake and turning the wheel, it just flared up,” Gordon added. “I certainly have some things going on in there with some slight bulging disks and things like that.”
Dover International Speedway now approaches, giving Gordon four-days to tend to and re-energize his back, which should be an ample amount of time, according to the Vallejo, California driver.
“Now having some rest and being able to take it easy and do my normal therapy, I should be fine by Dover,” Gordon concluded.
*Quotes from Bob Pockrass, Sporting News