Jeff Gordon on back problems: “I wouldn’t say I’m 100%”

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Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon gutted out the Coca-Cola 600 despite dealing with back spasms, and he’s set to do it again this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

Gordon, who won at Kansas earlier this month to secure a place in the Chase Grid, noted that while he’s still feeling residual effects after NASCAR’s longest race, he’ll be good to go for the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.

“I wouldn’t say I’m 100%,” said Gordon, who does have a degenerative disc and needed an epidural and a Cortisone shot for treatment last week.

“I’m back closer to normal, which is just always aggravation and some discomfort. I’m still feeling some of the effects of what went on last week, but I felt good in the car. I didn’t have any sharp pains, so that’s good.

“I just had a week of rest and normal activity – lots of ice this week. I was pretty sore on Monday and Tuesday after that long 600, but that’s not totally unusual; but probably just a little bit more than normal because of all that I went through. So, I feel good for this weekend.”

Nonetheless, the four-time Cup champion indicated that the matter was a wake-up call to him – not just regarding his conditioning but about possibly being forced to hang up his helmet.

“I think that it really more pointed toward some things that I have to address throughout a race weekend and how I handle the downtime,” he said. “I’ve been working a lot harder on my training and riding a bike and exercising and the problem with that is that it tightens everything up even more so than normal.

“If I don’t stay loose and ice and do other things that keep me loose when I get to the race weekend, what happened could possible occur again. So, that’s the biggest thing I’m focused on; not thinking or focusing on anything else. I can tell you if that happens many more times, I won’t have a choice [regarding retirement].”

But despite talk of the R-word, Gordon is having none of it. While not annoyed by such chatter, he insists his focus is on remaining as consistent as he has been on the track and contending for a fifth Cup title this fall.

“I think that if anything, [the 600] only built more momentum for our race team to go through what we went through, he said.

“And to go have that kind of a race – to show the team what kind of determination I have as well as kind of show our competitors that it’s going to take a lot to get us down – I think that did more good for us for this season and our chances for a championship than anything else.”

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.