Jeff Gordon has one more shot for a fifth Sprint Cup Series championship.
The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion announced Thursday that 2015 will be his final full-time season in the Cup Series.
“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,” Gordon said in a team statement. “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. I won’t use the ‘R-word’ because I plan to stay extremely busy in the years ahead, and there’s always the possibility I’ll compete in selected events, although I currently have no plans to do that.
“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. 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."
Letting team know this will be my final year competing for a championship. pic.twitter.com/s7aH8OpGQZ— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) January 22, 2015
Gordon, 43, won NASCAR titles in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. He has 92 career Sprint Cup Series wins, good for third all-time behind Richard Petty and David Pearson. His best season was that 1998 campaign, when he won 13 races and had a crazy 28 top-10 finishes in 33 races. For good measure, he won the final race of that season and finished with a 364-point lead on second place Mark Martin.
“Jeff Gordon transcends NASCAR and will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race," NASCAR CEO Brian France said in a statement. "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. His prolonged excellence and unmatched class continue to earn him the admiration of fans across the globe. 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. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Jeff for his years of dedication and genuine love for this sport, and wish him the very best in his final season.”
Gordon finished sixth in the 2014 standings after missing out on the final race at Homestead by a single point. He crashed after contact with Brad Keselowski at Texas (leading to a scuffle replayed more times than you can count) and then failed to advance to the championship race after Ryan Newman knocked Kyle Larson out of the way at Phoenix, sliding into the fourth spot ahead of Gordon. He won four races last season, including the Brickyard 400.
To say that Gordon was a revolutionary driver in the Cup Series isn't an understatement. He entered the series full-time in 1993 and quickly became an adversary to Dale Earnhardt, who he eventually formed a good friendship with. He was the perfect anti-Earnhardt. While the veteran had his black No. 3 and legion of fans, Gordon represented the "new" NASCAR of sorts as a young kid from California with a rainbow-colored car.
Coincidentally, his first race in 1992 was the last race of Petty's career.
He helped NASCAR become mainstream too, immediately becoming one of the most recognizable figures in sports. When he made his Cup debut, the thought of a NASCAR driver married to a Belgian supermodel would have made many an observer pass out from disbelief.
“There’s simply no way to quantify Jeff’s impact,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said. “He’s one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed. There’s been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be. I will never be able to properly express the respect and admiration I have for Jeff and how meaningful our relationship is to me. I’m so grateful for everything he’s done for our company and my family, and I look forward to many more years together as friends and business partners.”
The team said plans for Gordon's car in 2016 will be announced at a later date but the odds-on favorite is Chase Elliott, the 2014 Xfinity Series champion. Elliott, 19, is considered one of NASCAR's next big stars and has a developmental contract with Hendrick Motorsports.
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