Jeff Gordon announces 2015 as final full-time season

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Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title-winner Jeff Gordon will make 2015 his last full season in the Sprint Cup Series.

Gordon, who entered NASCAR’s premier series full-time in 1993, made the announcement Thursday morning via a news release in which he dispelled the notion that he’d be retiring full-time.

“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,” Gordon said in the release.

“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.

“I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing. I’m a fan of all forms of motor sports, 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 (Hendrick) 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.

“Racing has provided a tremendous amount of opportunity that’s been extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling in my life. 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. To everyone at NASCAR, my teammates, sponsors, competitors, friends, family, members of the media and especially our incredible fans, all I can say is thank you.”

Gordon, 43, has 92 victories and 77 pole positions in the Sprint Cup Series. He ranks third behind Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105) on the all-time victory list.

“Jeff Gordon transcends NASCAR and will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race,” NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in a statement. “We have all enjoyed watching his legend grow for more than two decades, and will continue to do so during his final full-time season. His prolonged excellence and unmatched class continue to earn him the admiration of fans across the globe. Today’s announcement is a bittersweet one. I’ll miss his competitive fire on a weekly basis, but I am also happy for Jeff and his family as they start a new chapter. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Jeff for his years of dedication and genuine love for this sport, and wish him the very best in his final season.”

Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson also tweeted about the news.

Hall of Fame driver and current NASCAR on Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip dubbed Gordon as the greatest driver of all time and credited him for expanding NASCAR’s popularity to new levels.

“While he has nothing left to prove to the rest of us, Jeff probably has some personal goals in 2015,” Waltrip said in a statement. “He’d like to win 100 races, but he knows that might be a stretch. It’s hard to win four in a season, let alone eight. And of course, he’d like to another championship.

“A part-time Jeff Gordon behind the wheel isn’t a bad thing, either. When I was at the end of my career, there were some tracks I still enjoyed competing on – and even would today. Jeff has stayed with [team owner] Rick [Hendrick] his entire career and has been committed to that organization. Their relationship has paid huge dividends. Jeff has driven the same number with the same team for his entire career, a continuity that reminds me a lot of the Petty era.”

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said he’d enjoyed knowing Gordon since the days when he “was a teenager with a really bad mustache.”

“It has been thrilling to watch him develop from a promising Busch Series driver into perhaps the greatest professional our sport has ever seen,” the flamboyant promoter continued. “Jeff showed last season that he still has a burning desire to win races and championships. You won’t find a finer professional, person or charitable athlete.

“We have been fortunate to be associated with him for all of these years. I’m sure all fans, even of the other drivers, will want to show their appreciation to Jeff this year.”