Jeff Gordon is a legend. He is the man who really launched NASCAR into the popular sport that it is today.
Even if a person doesn’t like NASCAR, they know of the name Gordon. Whether they saw it come across the television screen, heard it from a friend or if they are a die-hard race fan, everyone knows the “Rainbow Warrior.” His name is one that could arguably be entered within the debate of “the best overall race car driver of all time.”
For more than 20 seasons, Gordon has brought NASCAR to an upper-echelon sport. Auto racing has come from what many think is a “redneck sport,” to one of the most popular sports in the United States. And for the past 23 seasons, Gordon has been the face of the sport.
But on Jan. 22, the 92-time race winner announced that he will take a step back from auto racing following the 2015 season. Gordon refuses to use the “R” word (retire), because he doesn’t know what the future holds. As far as being a full-time Sprint Cup driver, this is it for he and Hendrick Motorsports.
There are many reasons as to why 2015 is the last full-time season for him. Ever since a vicious crash into the inside wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2007, Gordon has been battling a bad back. With the addition of being a parent to seven-year old daughter, Ella, and his four-year old son Leo, he has begun to see life beyond racing.
Numerous competitors of Gordon chimed in on social media showing their respect for the career of one of the best. Many of these drivers grew up watching Gordon, including Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Larson. Even the likes of Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson showed support of their friend.
Fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted “I will never forget the day my dad introduced me to Jeff Gordon in 1994, at North Wilkesboro Speedway.” “This kid is going to be special.”
“Special” sums up the career of Gordon. Four championships, 92 wins, 320 top-fives, and 454 top-10s says it all. He also has 77 poles and has led almost 25,000 laps. What a career. What a legacy.
“Winning the inaugural Brickyard 400 was most special to me,” said Gordon. ’It really bums me out that I haven’t won under this format. We’ve been close, but haven’t won it, and I’m using that as motivation in this final season to run for the championship and to go out there and get it done.”
As a five-time winner of the Brickyard, Gordon knows a thing or two about winning the big races. He is also a three-time Daytona 500 winner, as well as a three-time Coca-Cola 600 winner.
Gordon’s accomplishments will go down as some of the best ever for anyone who wheeled a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car. But as his last full-time season is rapidly approaching, it will be an emotional rollercoaster for the entire No. 24 team in 2015. He will visit all 23 tracks on the circuit for the last time as a driver, and if he can record a win at Kentucky, he will have won at every track on the circuit.
2014 was one of Gordon’s best seasons over the past decade, and he was at the top of his game every week, leading at least one lap in 26 of the 36 races. He had his best shot at his luxurious fifth championship in many years, but came up just short.
This will be an emotional season for everyone involved in racing. When a fan goes to the track this season, it could potentially be the last time they see one of the best ever strap-up into a race car for their last time in person.
“I think the chances are pretty good that Homestead will be the last race you ever see me in, he said”
There is no doubt that Gordon will be a first ballot hall-of-famer when he becomes eligible. His name is high on the ranks of all-time greats beside Earnhardt, Petty, Pearson and Johnson.
It would not be surprising if Gordon goes out on top with a fifth championship.
There will never be another Jeff Gordon.