Gordon starts Coca-Cola 600
May 25, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
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CONCORD, N.C. -- When the green flag was waved for the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Jeff Gordon was on the track in his No. 24 Chevrolet.
Earlier Sunday, Gordon was in the drivers' meeting before the race one day after cutting short his practice for NASCAR's longest race with back spasms.
Gordon, a three-time Coca-Cola 600 winner, ran 11 laps in Saturday morning's early practice, the fewest of any driver in the 43-car field before leaving the track to recuperate. The decision to start Sunday's 600-miler stretches the 22nd-year veteran's consecutive starts streak to 737, most among active drivers in NASCAR's premier division.
News of Gordon's status came across social media:
"I'm certainly feeling better than I was yesterday," Gordon told FOXSports.com. "The doctors have done everything they possibly could to get me prepared. I feel like we're going to be OK, but you just never know until you get in the car and get in those loads."
"It was tough to get out (of the car) for practice," Gordon told FOXSports.com. "I can't imagine what it would be like for the race. I don't plan on doing that."
Gordon said before skipping final Sprint Cup practice that he had opted to play it safe after having a back spasm during Thursday night Coors Light Pole Qualifying.
"It's unfortunate," Gordon said Saturday. "I've had some spasms in the past, but this one is a little bit different. And so, I just want to really be cautious and take care of it. It doesn't do me any good to be in the car right now, especially when the car is as good as it is. It's really about getting prepared for 600 miles tomorrow. I have no doubts that I can be in this car and be competitive tomorrow if I just take it easy over the next 24 hours."
Gordon underwent a procedure to help relieve chronic back pain in May 2009. Coincidentally, the injection five years ago came while Gordon was also the Sprint Cup points leader entering the 600-miler.
Gordon prevailed in the most recent points-paying race earlier this month at Kansas Speedway. Under new rules for 2014, that regular-season victory all but clinches Gordon's spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, fueling speculation that the four-time Sprint Cup champion could sit out the four-hour, 600-mile marathon without harm to his title hopes. But Alan Gustafson, Gordon's crew chief, scuttled that notion.
"Not for me, no," Gustafson said Saturday about the decision. "It's going to be based on his condition."
Gordon and Gustafson had said Saturday that NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Regan Smith would be on standby for the Hendrick Motorsports team. Smith drove the team's No. 24 Chevrolet in offseason testing and had been fitted for the car Saturday as a precautionary measure.