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Driver Jeff Gordon covers his ears in the garage before practice for the Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup series auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Friday, July 25, 2014. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
NASCAR: Jeff Gordon shows he’s contender in title chase
NASCAR » But back pain plagues the 42-year-old driver.
First Published Aug 02 2014 07:16 pm • Last Updated Aug 02 2014 11:10 pm

Long Pond, Pa. • Jeff Gordon turned a nostalgic weekend at the Brickyard into a powerful reminder that he can still win NASCAR’s biggest races.

Oh, and a fifth championship.

At a glance

GoBowling.com 400

O Sunday, 11 a.m.


Sprint Cup standings

Top 12 in points:

1. J. Gordon 717

2. D. Earnhardt Jr. 693

3. B. Keselowski 666

4. M. Kenseth 661

5. J. Johnson 628

6. Ky. Busch 609

7. R. Newman 606

8. C. Edwards 603

9. J. Logano 591

10. C. Bowyer 577

11. D. Hamlin 572

12. K. Harvick 565

Wins » J. Johnson, 3; B. Keselowski, 3; D. Earnhardt Jr., 2; C. Edwards, 2; J. Gordon, 2; K. Harvick, 2; J. Logano, 2; A. Almirola, 1; Ku. Busch, 1; Ky. Busch, 1; D. Hamlin, 1.

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But for all the proof that Gordon is still a driver to contend with in a championship push, he realizes he’s not in the same physical condition when he won his first Brickyard in 1994. Gordon turns 43 on Monday with an achy back that he feels when settling behind the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet.

"It’s not great, that’s for sure," Gordon said.

Gordon hasn’t been the same since he felt consistent, shooting back pain before the Coca-Cola 600 in May. He cut short his practice sessions, had treatments and needed a standby driver.

Gordon had serious issues years ago in his lower spine and returned to full strength thanks to anti-inflammatory medication and workouts with a trainer. 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 like he did at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"I don’t think my back is ever going to be the same after what happened at Charlotte," Gordon said. "I don’t know what exactly transpired there, but it’s not the same. And I have to be much more careful. I’m just having to treat it more with ice and (stimulation) and be more careful and do more stretching.

"Is it going to flare-up again? It could. But I’m just trying to be more cautious with the things that I do that I feel like contribute to that."

Gordon never showed any signs of discomfort last weekend at Indy, pulling away from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne on the final restart to win for the second time this season. Gordon holds the points lead heading into Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway, where he’s a six-time winner.

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Gordon and Kahne staged a similar battle in last August’s race at Pocono. Unlike last week at Indy, Kahne won the restart and the race. Cruising from the outside, Kahne got the jump he needed, zipped past Gordon and pulled away with two laps left for the win.

Kahne is winless this season and badly needs one if he wants to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Kahne led 70 laps and had the car to beat at Indy until his late fade ended with a sixth-place finish and his car out of fuel.

"It was the first time of the season we have put a full race together," Kahne said. "From me driving to them on pit road to pit calls, everything about it was right. That is something that we haven’t done this year. We haven’t even come close to doing that."

He could be in the mix Sunday — along with Gordon, and Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The drivers have won the last four races at the track.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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