Multiple NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon took a hard hit during Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington, causing him to ponder whether the so called 'field fillers' should be allowed to take part.

The caution flags flew on lap 31 as Gordon's #24 Dupont Chevrolet collected the spun #280 Commercial Truck & Trailer Ford of 43rd and last starter Andy Hillenberg, which was tapped into a spin by Tony Stewart. Hillenberg came to rest across the racing line, leaving Gordon with nowhere to go, running into him at full tilt and wrecking his car.

Fortunately, Gordon was uninjured in the shunt.

"I'm going to be okay, but I'm pretty sore right now," he said, "I'll be sore tomorrow. I haven't taken a hit like that possibly ever. The HANS device did its job, thankfully. The belts did their job, but it's unfortunate.

"I was right behind Elliott Sadler going into turn one and I just couldn't see through the smoke up ahead. The spotter said to go low but, by that time, I was already committed to the outside lane. When the smoke cleared, Andy Hillenburg was sitting right in front of me. I tried to slow the car down, but I just got right into him. When cars spin here or wrecks happen, it's hard to stay out of them at Darlington.

"I don't know what happened there with Andy getting spun, but I'll tell you what, there are a bunch of cars out there that do not belong out there. They're way off the pace. They're in the way. We almost had several wrecks before that, and I came on the radio and asked if NASCAR could take some guys off the track, not just because they're slow, but because they're in the way. This is a narrow, tight race track. It's a hard enough track to race with guys who are at speed. It's just frustrating right now.

Gordon suggested that some sort of qualifying standard be introduced to eliminate the slower drivers, as had been tried in other series.

"It's an issue," he continued, "I think in qualifying, maybe there's a certain percent, like Formula One has a 107 per cent rule. This is the NEXTEL Cup Series, man. I mean, this is the best of the best. We don't need to have cars there that are just out there making a qualifying attempt and making the race. We talk about it all the time. [NASCAR has] tried to address it with a minimum speed, but maybe the minimum speed needs to be adjusted.

"Everyone is caught up in this 43 cars [minimum grid size], but I don't care if there are 43 cars. I don't know if the people in the stands really care if there are 43 cars. We need cars out there that are competitive and that need to be out there competing for position, not just riding around."

Hillenberg responded to criticism of his inclusion on the grid by claiming that he could have gone faster if he had had a better car - and Gordon generously gave him the benefit of the doubt.

"As long as they are allowed to go out there and run the speeds, they by all means," he offered, "It's nothing against them. I don't know if that was Andy's fault. But I know there are other cars out there that are definitely not up to the speed that they need to be to be in this series."

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