By Jim Utter The Charlotte Observer
CONCORD, N.C. — This is not how Jeff Gordon envisioned celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first Sprint Cup Series victory.
After running just 11 laps in Saturday morning’s first practice session at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Gordon brought his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet back to the garage and parked it for the day.
“Unfortunately, I had a back spasm the other night in that last qualifying run I made and I’ve been trying to get it worked out by today and I got in the car and it just wasn’t,” Gordon said.
“The good news is that the car is awesome. So, I made 11 laps and it was everything I could do to do that.”
Gordon and his team elected not to run Saturday’s final practice, and have contacted Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith to serve as a relief driver for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
“I’ve had some spasms in the past, but this one is a little bit different,” said Gordon, who looked visibly uncomfortable during a TV interview Saturday morning.
“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.”
Gordon already has a victory this season and qualified his car on Thursday night, so if he were to sit out Sunday’s race completely he would not lose his eligibility in the Chase so long as he remained in the Top 30 of driver points.
“It’s really about getting prepared for 600 miles,” Gordon said. “I have no doubts that I can be in this car and be competitive (Sunday) if I just take it easy over the next 24 hours.”
Gordon, 42, has a history of back problems and as recently as the 2009 season said chronic back pain could curtail his racing career. In recent seasons, Gordon has credited a new workout and training regimen to improving the problem.
Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, remained confident in Gordon’s ability to race on Sunday.
“He’s extremely tough and extremely dedicated,” Gustafson said of Gordon. “I know he’s very competitive and it’s difficult anytime to have to not be able to do your job based on physical requirements or something that’s personal.
“I know that’s not easy for him, but I know tomorrow he’ll do everything he can to get in and go.”
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