Regan Smith on Standby for Jeff Gordon for Coke 600by Kyle Pokrefky May 24, 2014
Photo Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports) and the No. 24 team have called on Regan Smith as a backup for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
After ending his morning practice session early due to pain he was experiencing from back spasms, Gordon would sit out of the afternoon practice – his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet being parked in its garage stall throughout the entire session. Gordon has been experiencing issues with his back ever since climbing out of his car on Thursday after qualifying even after some 36 hours of rest.
With Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 being the longest race on the Sprint Cup Series calendar and a true test of endurance, Gordon felt the need to climb out of his car after 11 laps of practice in order to gain more rest ahead of Sunday night’s race.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gordon said. “I’ve had some spasms in the past, but this one is a little bit different. I just want to be cautious and take care of it. It doesn’t do me any good to be out there in the car right now, especially as good as it is.”
Gordon is no stranger to having issues with his back, in 2009 the then 37-year-old experienced pain so intense while driving his race car that he contemplated an early retirement had his issues not been resolved.
In case Gordon’s condition does not improve, Smith, current Nationwide Series regular for JR Motorsports, has been tagged as a back-up driver for the four-time series champion in the event. Smith has previously run for Hendrick Motorsports as a back-up driver after filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in two races in 2012 while Earnhardt was sidelined with a concussion in early-October.
The No. 24’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, elected to not run Smith in Saturday afternoon’s practice although the Cato, New York, native was available. Gustafson voiced his confidence in his regular driver’s tenacity to the press after Saturday’s morning practice.
“He’s extremely tough and extremely dedicated,” Gustafson said. “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.”