Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon announced the 2015 season will be his last as a full-time NASCAR driver. Gordon told his colleagues at Hendrick Motorsports on Thursday morning, just prior to making the announcement public via Twitter.
Letting team know this will be my final year competing for a championship. pic.twitter.com/s7aH8OpGQZ
— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) January 22, 2015
Gordon has racked up 92 career Cup wins, which puts him in the Top 3 most-decorated NASCAR drivers of all-time, but at 43, the question of when his final final lap would be has been looming for a while. A younger Gordon once said he wouldn’t race past age 40. Gordon also has two young kids who he misses — a lot — when he’s on the road so much. This was made evident in a 2014 profile of Gordon by The Washington Post’s Rick Maese, who accompanied Gordon on a business trip to Delaware:
That morning, before dropping 6-year-old Ella off at school, she told him, “Papa, when I see [the school dean] today, I’m going to ask him if he could change the date of the father-daughter dance because you’re never able to go.” As the plane prepared to land, Gordon became teary just thinking about it.
“It was the sweetest thing,” he said, “but it broke my heart at the same time.”
While he might appreciate the victories more than when he was younger, the celebration doesn’t last very long. Winning never became humdrum, but life changed.
“When you go back to your kids, they’re happy and excited for five minutes,” he said, “but then it’s, ‘Okay, time to play,’ or ‘Let’s go hit the ball.’ With my daughter, it’s play dolls, play make-believe.”
Gordon didn’t bring up his family directly while addressing his colleagues at Hendrick Motorsports on Thursday. Instead, he noted he’s basing his deicion on “instincts.”
“As a race car driver, much of what I’ve done throughout my life has been based on following my instincts and trying to make good decisions. I thought long and hard about my future this past year and during the offseason, and I’ve decided 2015 will be the last time I compete for a championship,” Gordon said, refusing to use what he calls the “R-word,” or retirement.
He added also that just because he has no plans to compete for the championship behind the driver’s wheel past 2015, it doesn’t mean he’ll drop from the circuit altogether.
“I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing. I’m a fan of all forms of motor sports, but particularly NASCAR. We have a tremendous product, and I’m passionate about the business and its future success,” Gordon said. “As an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, I’m a partner with Rick (Hendrick) and will remain heavily involved with the company for many years to come. It means so much to have the chance to continue working with the owner who took a chance on me and the incredible team that’s stood behind me every step of the way.”
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France released a statement just hours after Gordon’s announcement, calling the news “bittersweet.”
“Today’s announcement is a bittersweet one. I’ll miss his competitive fire on a weekly basis, but I am also happy for Jeff and his family as they start a new chapter,” France said in statement sent to The Washington Post. He was quick also remember that Gordon’s notice is not effective immediately. Remember, he still has one year left!
“Jeff Gordon transcends NASCAR and will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race. We have all enjoyed watching his legend grow for more than two decades, and will continue to do so during his final full-time season,” France said, adding, “His prolonged excellence and unmatched class continue to earn him the admiration of fans across the globe.”
Gordon also was a favorite among his peers. Reaction to the news from fellow NASCAR drivers came swiftly, most in disbelief as the No. 24 Chevrolet driver for Hendrick has been such a stalwart on the scene.
Hard to imagine this is @JeffGordonWeb last full season. Tons of respect for him and what he's accomplished thus far. A total professional.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) January 22, 2015
Crazy to hear that @JeffGordonWeb is retiring! What an amazing career! Glad I got to race with him!
— Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) January 22, 2015
Very few have done as much for our sport as @JeffGordonWeb. Nothing but respect for one of the greatest that's ever raced.
— Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) January 22, 2015
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) January 22, 2015
Honored to have worked with one of the greatest talents to ever drive a race car @JeffGordonWeb. Class act & fierce competitor!
— Matthew Clark (@MattClarkMC) January 22, 2015