20 years after first win, two-tire call fails Gordon
May 25, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Full race results | Series standings
CONCORD, N.C. -- The back problems that plagued Jeff Gordon leading into Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway proved to be a non-issue.
Holding off Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and a handful of others in the waning laps of the 400-lap race, however, was a bit more problematic.
"It was better than Saturday morning, and that's what I was thankful for," Gordon said after finishing seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. "It was tough. I was aching in there. There was one time when I got on the brakes (going into Turn) 1 and it triggered something.
"I didn't know what was going to happen after that, but it settled down."
Back spasms kept Gordon, 42, out of the previous day's final practice session and threatened to end his streak of 737 consecutive starts, longest among active Cup drivers. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has not missed a race since he made his Cup debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992.
Physical therapy enabled the four-time champion to stay in the car for the duration of the race, which lasted more than four hours. He climbed gingerly from the car afterward, easing his way through the driver's side window.
Although he led only four times for eight laps, he consistently ran among the leaders after climbing from his 27th-place starting position. After resetting the field following the night's final caution, Gordon saw nothing but clear race track in his windshield and 17 laps remaining on the scoreboard.
"I loved that call there at the end, just like the call that was made when we won the first race here," Gordon said of Alan Gustafson's two-tire call that eventually put his driver out front.
In '94, Gordon scored his first Cup victory, winning at Charlotte thanks in part to a similar two-tire call by former crew chief Ray Evernham.
"I don't know if I could have held off Matt, but we were going to give him a heck of a run," Gordon said. " …The car was feeling pretty good right there, it was just a matter of whether it was going to tighten up over 20-some laps.
"I got a decent restart there, but when Matt got to my outside I got real loose and at that point I was just kind of a sitting duck."
Kenseth held the point for eight laps after the restart, but couldn't hold off Johnson, the eventual winner, or Kevin Harvick down the stretch. Carl Edwards trailed Kenseth to place fourth while Jamie McMurray, the winner of last week's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, rounded out the top five.
"I know he was in a lot of pain," team owner Rick Hendrick said of his driver. "Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and I've talked about it and the team's talked about it. It looks like the Jeff Gordon of 20 years ago. He's up there every week."
Time, Gordon said, was the issue this weekend. Having a few days out of the car, and more therapy for his back, should have him ready to go when the series travels to Dover, Delaware, for next Sunday's race. He'll go there as the points leader, a position he's held since a runner-up finish at Texas earlier this year.
"It tells me a lot about what kind of (pain) threshold I have," said Gordon, a winner of 89 Cup races. "I just want to show this team the kind of commitment I have, because of what they've shown me this year."