The pain was evident in Jeff Gordon‘s body language Monday afternoon outside the care center at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International where he was given the once-over after being involved in a frightening late race accident.
The resulting 37th place finish tied his worst showing of the season and was only his second finish outside the top-20 since April — a dismal conclusion to an un-Gordon-like road course outing.
It’s a safe bet his No. 24 DuPont Chevy team will rebound in the remaining four weeks before the Chase for the Championship 10-race playoff. The question is, how will his already aching back recover. And will it ultimately affect Gordon’s title hopes?
“It wasn’t that hard of a hit, it’s just my back can’t stand too many hits,” said Gordon, who had a procedure on his lower back in May to relieve the pain and inflammation from mild arthritis. “I’m hurting.”
“It’s just not what I needed you know,” Gordon added. “You take three or four steps forward up to this point and you then you take a hit like that and you take a couple steps backwards.”
Even the veteran ESPN broadcasters described the lap-63 scene as one of the most violent accidents they’d seen on a road course. The race was red-flagged for nearly 20 minutes while crews cleaned up the extensive debris.
Sam Hornish Jr. was pinched off-course while racing side-by-side with Kasey Kahne. The impact into the tire barrier lifted Hornish’s Dodge off the ground and spun it wildly back across the race course into traffic. Gordon had nowhere to go and the cars collided violently, sending Gordon’s Chevy head-on into a retaining fence.
“My first reaction was, ‘man that hurt,’ and then you hope you don’t get hit again,” Gordon said. “Then I just wanted to get out and see what kind of pain I was in with my back. I knew I was hurting and then was wondering if Sam [Hornish] was OK because he took a couple of heavy hits.”
Hornish was okay although that was the second major accident in the course’s Turn 9 — Jason Leffler wrecked there in Nationwide Series practice — and already there are calls for NASCAR to look into the safety of that portion of the track.
Monday’s result cost Gordon points in the title chase, but he’s still ranked third, comfortably in the Championship fray. And that may be the only thing comfortable for the four-time Champ this week.
Gordon has said his back is more affected during intense short-track races, not so much at the larger speedways or road courses. Fortunately for Gordon, the Sprint Cup Series races at the 2-mile Michigan Speedway on Sunday before moving to the bump-and-bang Bristol, Tenn., half-mile bullring on Aug. 22.
“Oh man, my left side and my back is super sore,” Gordon said. “It’s going to take probably a couple of weeks for it to heal completely and then we’ll be back to new. … Luckily we’ve got Michigan coming up next week, it’s pretty easy on things. If we were going to Bristol next week, I’d be concerned.”