DW: I still say Jeff Gordon is The G.O.A.T.
I know the announcement last week by Jeff Gordon that the 2015 season would be his final year driving full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series might have caught some folks by surprise. Personally, I really don’t think it should have. The signs have been there. We’ve all heard Jeff talk about retiring. We know Jeff has had problems with his back. Add that with the incredible success he’s had in our sport along with his beautiful family, and it just seems the time is right for a new chapter in his life.
Trust me, I speak from experience; one day you are holding your kids in your arms. Then the next minute they are driving off to college and then before you know it they are married with their own family. It just goes by so fast. Jeff has a tender heart and I know he wants to be there for as much of it as he can. There just comes a point when you look around and ask yourself, "What is there left to accomplish?"
I don’t think this is a big factor, but you can’t discount the fact that there is a young 19-year-old driver who just won the championship in our newly named Xfinity Series waiting in the wings. Jeff is a team player. He loves Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports. It’s the only place he’s ever been in his Cup career. Jeff knows that Rick and that organization have made him what he is today.
So I think Jeff looked in the mirror and asked himself whether it was better to just keep on driving or make 2015 special and maybe, just maybe win his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship to go out on top. Knowing Jeff the way I do, I know he probably felt deep down that the timing was right to pass the torch to a young, awesome driver.
As long as there is the sport of NASCAR, the debate will rage over who is the best driver of all time. You can easily make a case for Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jimmie Johnson. Still in my book, Jeff Gordon is the G.O.A.T., as in Greatest of All Time. What he has done in our sport and to our sport is unparalleled in my book.
Jeff started what we called the youth movement in NASCAR. Not only am I talking about the legions of young fans he brought to the sport, but also the youth movement behind the wheel. He and car owner Rick Hendrick changed the culture and mindset of the sport, showing owners that you didn’t have to have an older driver with a lot of experience behind the wheel. Jeff showed everyone that the combination of a young upstart with talent and burning desire to win combined with a great car owner could pay huge dividends.
Jeff is one of those guys who transcended the race car. He’s someone who is recognizable across the country and across the world not just at the racetrack. He’s also a great businessman. His step-father John Bickford has been instrumental in molding Jeff’s career off the track. He’s helped open doors for Jeff that few could imagine.
Jeff has been an incredible ambassador for our sport. I know in addition to his family, his team and his on-track accomplishments, that he is really proud of the Jeff Gordon Foundation that does so much to help children stricken with cancer. It’s been moving to watch what Jeff has been able to give back.
I am happy for Jeff that he is retiring. It’s going to be a big change in our sport not to have Jeff behind the wheel of the famous No. 24 come 2016. The stars have lined up to where Jeff felt it was time to retire. Again, what is there left for the man to prove? He’s won four championships, three Daytona 500s, five Brickyard 400s, six Southern 500s, three Coca-Cola 600s, three All-Star races and is in third spot in NASCAR history with 92 wins. In his 23 years behind the wheel of the No. 24 car he’s raced 763 times and finished in the top ten 454 times. To me, that in and of itself is simply amazing.
That’s the kind of driver Jeff has always been. He’s always had the right instinct of when to push it or when to hold back. It’s just something the great ones have, and Jeff has it. No matter what Jeff decides to do, whether it is up in the TV booth or designing racetracks, he’ll be great at it. He has the personality and the credentials to be successful in pretty much whatever he chooses.
So congratulations, Jeff, on your decision. Here’s hoping 2015 turns into the Drive for Five. You’ve got a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids, a NASCAR Hall of Fame career and you are a fan-favorite. No matter what he chooses to do next, I know he will simply do it the way he always has. He’ll do it with class, style and dignity.
Before I go I wanted to mention I am in Charlotte all week. It’s a big week over here as the NASCAR Media Tour is going on, and then at the end of the week we induct five new members to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. While the NFL is wrapping its season up, ours is just kicking off.
I’m excited to get started. We have some new faces in some new places on our FOX team. Not only do we pick up a few more NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season in the FOX portion, but we also will begin covering the Xfinity Series beginning in Daytona. I love the fact that we get that series back during our broadcast portion of the season. It’s a great way to see not only the up-and-coming stars behind the wheel, but to also get a glimpse maybe of the stars of tomorrow working for FOX.
It’s a big week, especially Friday evening when we welcome my old buddy Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White as the Class of 2015 into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. These five deserving men and their families will reach the pinnacle of their racing career as they can now truly be called Hall of Famers.