Jeff Gordon rolling along, but still keeping an eye on his back

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As great as it was to soak in the moment after winning his fifth Brickyard 400 last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon found a special sort of happiness a few days later.

“We happened to have a birthday party for [son] Leo this week, so I had the chance to be around a lot of family and friends,” Gordon explained today at Pocono Raceway.

“When you haven’t won a big race like that in a while and you win it, you’re in such disbelief that it takes a couple of days for it to sink in as to how much you respect and appreciate and how you just don’t take for granted those types of moments and days.

“I think for me, it was just a great week to reminisce with all my friends and family who either watched it on TV or were there in person. Those are the greatest moments as a race car driver or competitor that you can go through.”

But now, it’s back to business for Gordon, who leads the Sprint Cup championship standings and will start fifth in Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono.

Those who perform well at Indy tend to do well at Pocono, which is also a low-banked, high-speed track. But there are also many unique aspects about Pocono that isn’t found anywhere else on the circuit.

“The tunnel turn [Turn 2] is a lot like the turns that we have at Indianapolis,” said Gordon. “But the other two are quite a bit different. So, we take something that we learn from every track we go to and try to apply it. And I think we’ve applied some of those things this weekend that should work well.”

Right now, Gordon appears set to truly contend for a fifth Sprint Cup championship. The “Drive for Five,” ongoing since his fourth title in 2001, has become the primary story around him.

But not long ago, the talk around Gordon centered around him possibly hanging up his helmet due to his ailing back. During the Coca-Cola 600 weekend in May, Gordon had to step out of the car during a practice session because of back spasms.

After receiving treatment, Gordon competed in NASCAR’s longest race. But the legend believes that after what happened to him in Charlotte, he may have to deal with back issues for the remainder of his career – however long that may be.

“I don’t know what exactly transpired there, but it’s not the same,” Gordon admitted. “And I have to be much more careful. I’m just having to treat it more with ice and [electric 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. But, yeah, it’s not great, that’s for sure.”

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994