NASCAR Dover 2014: Back pain prompts Jeff Gordon retirement talk

Jonathan Moore

If his back pain persists, Gordon says he will have no choice but to retire.

A week after "shooting pains" in his back pain forced him to miss practice and put his status in doubt for the Coca-Cola 600, Jeff Gordon said he is healthy and fit, though not completely, Friday at Dover International Speedway.

Unlike last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Gordon will not have Regan Smith on standby in case he needs a relief driver and plans to run the entirety of Sunday's FedEx 400.

"I can tell you if [the pain] happens many more times, I won’t have a choice. -Jeff Gordon

"I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent," Gordon said. "I'm back closer to normal, which is just always aggravation and some discomfort. I'm still feeling some of the affects of what went on last week, but I felt good in the car. I didn't have any sharp pains, so that's good."

Throughout the weekend, Gordon has been getting treatment on his back, including lots of rest and ice. He did not need additional shots of cortisone as he did when he removed himself from the car Saturday due to severe pain.

In what is NASCAR's longest race, Gordon completed the entire 600-mile distance, finishing seventh last Sunday.

Back pain is something Gordon has dealt with for most of the past decade, and it was an issue that at one time had the four-time NASCAR champion contemplating retirement. But the pain has subsided in recent years thanks to an emphasis on strengthening and conditioning.

"The issues that I've had in the past never really were like what I dealt with last weekend," Gordon said. "That's the first time that something like that happened in the car, on qualifying day, into a race weekend."

Gordon attributed the flare-up last weekend to an unusual schedule when first practice and qualifying were held Thursday, Friday was an off-day and two sessions of practice were on Saturday.

"We had about a three-hour delay in between practice and qualifying," Gordon said. "And I just sat in the truck for too long in one place, and I really think that those issues that I have all the time just got inflamed and irritated. That's where the pain came from. And then, once that happened, there was nothing that was going to fix it until I had those injections on Saturday."

Inevitably, Gordon's back problems have created questions about his future. The 42-year-old acknowledges a career that has spanned 21 seasons and seen him win 89 times is winding down.

Gordon has talked about retirement recently -- even somewhat jokingly saying in February he would quit if he won the championship this year -- but is enjoying a bit of renaissance in 2014. He enters Dover leading the Sprint Cup standings holding an 11-point margin over second-place Matt Kenseth, and Gordon won his first race of the season just two weeks ago.

But a recurrence of the pain he experienced at Charlotte, and Gordon knows the decision he will have to make.

"You guys feel free to ask me all the questions that you want about retirement," Gordon said. "I don't have an answer for you. When the day comes and that decision is made, I will be more than happy to share it with you.

"I can tell you if [the pain] happens many more times, I won't have a choice [regarding retirement]."

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