Jeff Gordon is 42, has run 737 NASCAR Cup series races and won 89. He’s leading this season’s Sprint Cup standings and says retirement is the last thing on his mind.
That is unless he continues to consistently experience the kind of pain he felt in his back last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway – discomfort so severe it forced him from his car during practice the day before the Coca-Cola 600.
“I can tell you,” Gordon said Friday regarding any thoughts of retirement, “if that happens many more times, I won’t have a choice.”
But Gordon is feeling better for Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway after experiencing spasms last Saturday at Charlotte. He recovered enough overnight to finish seventh in the 600, which is NASCAR’s longest race and not an event for somebody with the kind of recurring back issues that plagues Gordon.
“That’s the first time that’s happened to me in the car into a race weekend,” said Gordon, who qualified sixth for Sunday’s race at Dover. “I’ve rolled out of bed and had things like that happen, and that’s just being tight and not having the muscles with blood flow and being loose. That’s just part of being older.”
Gordon said he knew something was wrong when he pushed in the clutch of his No. 24 Chevy while leaving the garage.
“I had a shooting pain in my back,” he said. “Then I went onto the track, and when I drove into the corner and loaded up into the banking, I had more shooting pain.”
Gordon quickly brought the car in, making a difficult decision to stop for the day.
“I understand I got out of the car on Saturday,” he said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I doubted myself when I was doing it. But my body was telling me that I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Gordon was given an epidural and another shot for pain Saturday night, which helped enough for him to make it through the 600. Since then, he has iced and stretched his back. He’s ready to race Sunday.
“I’m sitting here fine,” Gordon said. “I can walk fine. It’s just sitting in the car and pushing on the pedals and turning the steering wheel. Doing this for 30 or 40 years has definitely contributed to those things. It’s not unlike any other profession, whether you’re a golfer or a tennis player. That continuous motion and pushing those muscles and parts of your body are very common for a lot of people.
“But when you put that into racing, it just makes it a little bit tougher.”
It has also meant Gordon understands how much pain he can take in a car, and how that might affect his future as a driver.
“My focus is not on that,” he said. “When the day comes and that decision is made, I will be more than happy to share that with you.”