DOVER, Del. (AP) — Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon said Friday he will have to retire if he continues to suffer the same, excruciating back pain that he did before last weekend's Coca-Cola 600.
The 42-year-old Gordon is in no hurry to slow down. But he said he hopes he has found some solutions to the back woes that nearly forced him out of NASCAR's longest race. Gordon cut short his practice runs last week because of back spasms and there was some concern whether or not he would be able to race.
Regan Smith was on standby and Gordon needed treatment after the practice session. But he wound up in his familiar seat behind the wheel of the No. 24 and finished seventh, his ninth top-10 finish in 12 races this season.
Gordon knows consistent, shooting pain like he suffered at Charlotte Motor Speedway could drive him toward an early retirement.
"I can tell you, if that happens many more times, I won't have a choice," Gordon said Friday at Dover Motor Speedway.
Gordon had soreness Monday and Tuesday, though that didn't deviate too much from how he would feel after driving 600 grueling miles. He said his back is not at 100 percent, and probably never will be behind the wheel.
At Daytona this year, Gordon insisted he was serious about considering retirement should he win a fifth championship. He looks every bit a title contender — he has a win and holds the points lead — and gutting out Charlotte proved to his Hendrick Motorsports team "it's going to take a lot to get us down."
Gordon suffered serious issues years ago in his back, specifically his lower spine, and needed anti-inflammatory medication and workouts with a trainer to return to full strength. He drove in pain during a winless 2008 season and briefly contemplated retirement.
For all his back woes, Gordon said he never felt the stabbing pain there like he did last weekend.
Gordon said he'll make adjustments to his race weekend routine to keep his back loose to withstand hours crunched in a stock car. He needs to stay active and not sit during lengthy breaks in practice and qualifying. Gordon sat more than three hours last week between practice and qualifying, a gap that left he believed led his creaky back to a breakdown.
"Once that happened, there was nothing that was going to fix it until I had those injections on Saturday," he said.
Gordon has no standby driver at Dover. He felt fine on Friday. But once inside the No. 24, all bets are off.
"It's just something I continue to learn and push through," he said. "It's no big deal."