There it is, the official word is out that Jeff Gordon is done as a full-time NASCAR driver at the close of the 2015 season. Thus ends the speculation and questions that have been building since the 2009 season.
We should have all seen it coming, especially in the cryptic language of recent sponsorship announcements. Especially when 3M came on board, the emphasis was sponsorship of the team, not driver. Add in rising star Chase Elliott needing a place to go, this opens the door for him and keeps Hendrick Motorsports from losing another champion in the making.
Looking over his career, where do you start to put his time in perspective of NASCAR’s greats. Easiest place would be his stat line. Coming into his final season, Gordon has started 761 consecutive races (11th all-time), has won 77 poles (3rd all-time), has won 92 races (3rd all-time), collected 320 top-5s (3rd all-time), has 454 top-10s (2nd all-time), led 24,664 laps (6th all-time), and of course there are those four championships (1995, 1997, 1998, and 2001). The argument could be made that had the Chase not be developed, we’d be talking about a five or six time champion at this point.
Gordon also represents the last link to what many fans consider the best years of racing, the 1990s. He was the kid who came out of nowhere (well Pittsboro, IN to be exact) to challenge the great Dale Earnhardt and won. His youthful image and business prowess redefined NASCAR superstars. Not only was he a changing of the guard, he was an overall game changer for NASCAR. His rise to fame was something of a storybook, being nicknamed Boy Wonder.
Take away his statistics, he was able to rewrite NASCAR history without doing anything on the track. He had the eye to saw something in Jimmie Johnson that no one (including Johnson) saw. The result has been five championships and 70 wins for Johnson since 2002 as a teammate to Gordon.
The future, like many press releases before, is unknown and cryptic. On paper it says “last full-time season,” which indicates we might see Gordon run some races in the future. I’m thinking Hendrick might go the route it went with Terry Labonte, letting Gordon run a fifth car at tracks of his choosing. I hope that is the case because I think he has a lot left in the tank at age 43.
I’m sure the motivation is to be able to spend more time with his family. Another factor has got to be that nagging back injury that almost had Gordon call it quits in 2009. Instead of backing down, he came back and proved he was still an elite driver.
We have 36 more races to see Gordon, a walking legend. I just hope fans appreciate exactly what Gordon has done for the sport. I’m confident in saying it would not be at the levels it is without Jeff Gordon.