Hold the farewell: Jeff Gordon wants to go out as competitive as ever
When Jeff Gordon announced last Thursday that the 2015 season would be his last full-time year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, many imagined a farewell campaign that would rival Richard Petty’s 1992 "Fan Appreciation Tour."
However, the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is hesitant to use the dreaded "R" word: retirement.
Instead, Gordon hopes to go out of the sport on his own terms, competitive as ever, and hopefully with his fifth Sprint Cup Series championship.
There is no doubt Gordon wants to end his full-time tenure in NASCAR’s top division by finishing on top without the distraction of a farewell tour.
"I want to race hard and be competitive and be focused at the racetrack," Gordon said during Thursday’s Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "We’re trying to do all we can to talk to the tracks, talk to NASCAR about how we can maintain that level of being competitive and still accomplish the same things."
Unlike the farewell tours for drivers such as Petty and superstar athletes like Derek Jeter, Gordon does not want to be distracted by putting the primary focus on this being his final season.
Instead, Gordon has committed the 2016 season — his first not driving the No. 24 car full time in the Sprint Cup Series — to spending time with the fans and making the rounds at the tracks.
"I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be around," he said. "It only makes sense to me to commit myself to the fans and the tracks and all the sport has given to me. I can’t do all of that and try to be competitive on the racetrack (in 2015)."
Prior to reaching his ultimate decision, Gordon discussed the possibility with former Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett. Fierce competitors on the track in the 1990s and 2000s, Gordon said he admired how Jarrett handled his final year on the circuit and how he remained competitive through it all.
"I remember that year when Richard Petty retired," Gordon said. "As awesome as it was to see it happening, to see the fans just flock to him. He rode around toward the back. I know that’s not how he wanted to do it. He still had a long and incredible career, so you give it the respect to do it however he wishes. I think I could maybe get some of that same respect, but that’s not how I wanted to go about it."
In contemplating his decision, Gordon said he would have liked to confide in former NFL players John Elway and Troy Aikman about post-career life, but did not have the chance. He did, however, catch up with Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.
For some, staying in NASCAR beyond their prime was a matter of money, something Gordon says he is thankful he does not have to worry about anymore. Another deciding factor for Gordon was opportunities outside of the car to remain in the sport and have a successful life.
This season, Gordon will step into the broadcast booth with FOX Sports 1 to call a handful of Xfinity Series races. On Thursday, Gordon did not rule out the possibility of extending that experience into a more expanded role.
While Gordon has left the door open for possible Sprint Cup races down the road, he said definitively that this year’s Daytona 500 would be his last.
"That is not a race I will come back and do, if I do any at all," he said. "I don’t have any plans to do any right now, but the Daytona 500 will definitely not be one of them."
Already a three-time winner of that event, Gordon says while it would be nice to go out and earn another Daytona 500 trophy and a fifth championship, he does not necessarily have to do that to be comfortable walking away from the sport.
"I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do, and more," said Gordon. "Yeah, would I like to win another Daytona 500? Would I like to win another championship? Of course. But I don’t have to, to be able to walk away and still be completely content."