NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, announced Thursday that he will no longer race full time after the 2015 season.
Gordon, who helped take NASCAR from a Southern enterprise into the mainstream of American sports, will leave the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after 23 Sprint Cup seasons.
“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,” said Gordon, 43. “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.”
Gordon has won 92 points-paying race wins and 77 pole positions, all for longtime car owner Rick Hendrick. Gordon is third in all-time victories behind only NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).
Gordon won the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Kansas Speedway in 2001 and 2002, as well as the spring race in 2014, making him the only three-time winner at the track.
Gordon won his first championship at age 24 in his third full-time season in 1995 when he developed a rivalry with seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, and he followed that with championships in 1997, 1998 and 2001.
Gordon, who was bothered by back soreness that nearly caused him to miss a race last May, seriously challenged for a fifth title in 2014 when he won four races and led the points standings going into the Chase. But he missed the cut for the championship round, largely because of a spin in the final laps at Texas following contact while battling for the lead with Brad Keselowski, an exchange that set off a post-race brawl on pit road.
Gordon won the Daytona 500 three times and won the Brickyard 400 a record five times. He has won at every track on the Sprint Cup circuit with the exception of Kentucky Speedway, which began Cup racing in 2011.
“I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing,” Gordon said. “I’m a fan of all forms of motorsports, 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 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.”
Hendrick Motorsports did not announce a replacement for Gordon, but his departure paves the way for 2014 Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series champion Chase Elliott to move into that ride in 2016.
“There’s simply no way to quantify Jeff’s impact,” said Hendrick, who first noticed Gordon during a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 1992. “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.”
Gordon has been one of NASCAR’s most active drivers on behalf of charitable causes, including the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation. He also has made humanitarian trips to Africa where he was brought medical relief.
“Racing has provided a tremendous amount of opportunity that’s been extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling in my life,” Gordon said. “The work we’re doing with the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation will continue to be extremely important to me. Outside the race car, my passion is pediatric cancer research, and my efforts will remain focused there when I’m no longer driving.
“I’ll explore opportunities for the next phase of my career, but my primary focus now and throughout 2015 will be my performance in the No. 24 Chevrolet. I’m going to pour everything I have into this season and look forward to the challenge of competing for one last championship.”