Jeff Gordon looking forward to beginning ‘that next chapter’

Thursday was an emotional day for Jeff Gordon, as he first told his children and then his teammates and finally the world that 2015 will be his last full season driving the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

In a national teleconference Thursday afternoon, Gordon insisted he will be plenty busy in the future, working with Hendrick Motorsports, where he is an equity partner and will continue to work with drivers and sponsors in the near future.

As far as driving, Gordon didn’t rule out an occasional race in a lower-tier NASCAR series or even sports cars or off-road races, though he was quick to point out he had nothing planned.

And next year, with no full-time ride to monopolize his time, Gordon will step up his philanthropic efforts through his Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, which so far has raised more than $15 million in the fight against pediatric cancer.

But as far as racing for that elusive fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, it’s now or never for Gordon. To that end, he said the 2015 campaign will be business as usual and not a farewell tour, because he doesn’t want anything to distract him from winning. Next year, Gordon said he’ll be at the track a lot and will be more able to do events and fan interactions then.

This year, he wants to add to his total of 92 career Cup victories, third most in series history, behind Richard Petty’s 200 and David Pearson’s 105. And, yes, he very much wants that fifth title.

Gordon is coming off of a stellar 2014 season, which included one victory and four second-place finishes in the final 10 races of the year. Ironically, Gordon’s success helped him make the decision to step away after ’15.

"I think that really more just confirmed some things for me rather than anything else," Gordon said. "Even the great stretch and the run that we had and how good we were last year confirmed things even more for me. I was like, ‘You know what? This is all I could ask for.’ To be at this point in my career, 20-plus years into my career, and be that competitive week in and week out, I was almost ready to walk away right then."

Photos: Jeff Gordon through the years

But instead, the 43-year-old driver chose to make 2015 his final full-time season.

"I wanted to give one more year to my team, to Rick (Hendrick, team owner), the sponsors, the fans, my family and myself," Gordon said. "It just seemed like the timing was right to do those things and start that next chapter in my life. But the next chapter, you can’t really start it until you finalize that next decision, and then all of a sudden start to put the pieces together."

Gordon said he hopes the team’s strong performance from 2014 carries over to this year.

"I thought we had a chance to do it (win a championship) last year, and boy I would love to be in the same position that we were in this past year — do that again this year with running for the championship at Homestead."

As far as his career goes, Gordon started racing quarter-midgets when he was 5 years old, and his on-track success far eclipsed his own expectations.

Column: Jeff Gordon will leave legacy that goes far beyond trophies

"I love driving race cars," Gordon said. "Ever since I was a kid, that’s what I wanted to do, to be a race-car driver. And I hoped that it would get me to this level, but I didn’t know that was going to happen. So I think … it’s about seeing a kid’s dream come true in real life in front of thousands, if not millions, of people."

So this isn’t Gordon retiring; he’s just moving on to the next phase of his life.

"The way I see myself and the world is that retirement means you go off to a beach somewhere, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch and drink your coffee and pet your dog," he said. "That’s not me. I plan on working."

And talking about his decision to step away definitely counted as work.

"I’m just very proud of what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished and what goals were set early in my career or as a young kid and how I’ve been able to get this far," said Gordon. "Yeah, I’m a little sad that there is going to be a day when I step out of the car and it will be the last time. But I knew that that day was going to come at some time, and I think this is the right time. I’m more proud and excited of what I’ve done as well as what the future holds."