Jeff Gordon suffers back spasms, Regan Smith on standby for Coca-Cola 600

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Back spasms forced Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon to cut short his Saturday morning practice session, caused him to skip the final afternoon practice session and his status is uncertain for the longest and most grueling race of the season, Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.

Although he’s been hampered by back issues in the past – at one point so severe that he began to consider retirement – Gordon told Fox Sports that the condition had been under control until a flareup Thursday.

“Unfortunately, I had a back spasm the other night in the last qualifying run I made,” Gordon said. “And I’ve been trying to get it worked out by today. I got in the car today and it just wasn’t (right).”

Gordon comes into this weekend still riding the momentum of his first win of the season two weeks ago at Kansas. And although Gordon was sixth-fastest in Saturday morning’s practice session, he could be seen walking and moving around slowly and gingerly.

“The good news is the car was awesome, so I made 11 laps and it was everything I could do to do that, Gordon said. “I told the team that I thought it would be best that I sit out the rest of the day so that I could be prepared for this long, tough race that’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is a 400-lap event around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Gordon is NASCAR’s reigning iron man, having made 736 consecutive starts since making his first Cup start in the 1992 season finale at Atlanta.

Gordon will skip Saturday afternoon’s practice and likely rest and receive therapy on his back. At this juncture, he still plans on competing in Sunday’s race, but provisional plans have come together quite quickly.

“At this point, we’re going to have Regan Smith standing by for tomorrow,” Gordon said. “But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more today. I have no doubts that I can be in this car and be competitive tomorrow if I just take it easy over the next 24 hours.”

After his interview on Fox, Gordon could be seen greeting a group of fans by his hauler. Despite the pain he was in, Gordon was ever gracious, managing to bend slightly and give a female fan a hug.

“It’s unfortunate,” Gordon said of the pain he and situation he is in. “I’ve had some spasms in the past, but this one is a little bit different.

“I just want to really be cautious and take care of it. It doesn’t do any good to be out in the car right now, especially with how good (the car) is. It’s really about getting prepared for 600 miles tomorrow.”

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March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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