Jeff Gordon, one of NASCAR's all-time greats, will make 2015 his last full-time season. Making the announcement in a press release, Gordon said he is not retiring and while he may continue to compete in the Sprint Cup Series on a limited basis, he will no longer compete in all 36 races.
"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," Gordon, 43, said. "I'm going to pour everything I have into this season and look forward to the challenge of competing for one last championship."
A full-time competitor in NASCAR's premier division since 1993, Gordon has amassed four Cup championships and 92 career wins, trailing only Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Since debuting in the 1992 season finale, Gordon has started 761 consecutive races, second to Ricky Rudd with 788.
In NASCAR's biggest races Gordon was at his best. He owns three Daytona 500 victories, a record five wins in the Brickyard 400, three in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest event, and six in the Southern 500.
Throughout his career Gordon was a member of Hendrick Motorsports and his achievements coincided with Hendrick becoming the most dominant organization in NASCAR history. Along with Gordon's four championships, Hendrick won a championship with Terry Labonte (1996) and six with Jimmie Johnson (2006-10, '13), who was discovered and recruited by Gordon to sign with Hendrick.
"I will never be able to properly express the respect and admiration I have for Jeff and how meaningful our relationship is to me," said team owner Rick Hendrick.
A bad back and yearning to spend more time with his young family had Gordon contemplating retiring in recent years, only for Hendrick to dissuade him. But a strong 2014 season and wanting to finish his career on a high note cemented Gordon's mind. He made the decision last season and informed Hendrick, but waited until Thursday to inform his family and team.
What's next for Gordon isn't certain. He is open to the idea of running in the Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series or even some sports car races, specifically mentioning Le Mans. He also plans to devote more time to his numerous charitable efforts.
"I'm going to be working," Gordon told reporters. "I'm actually going to have to get a real job now. I don't plan on doing any racing, but I know I'm not going to be retiring because I have a lot on my plate already that we have plans for and we'll be talking about in the future."
No replacement has been named to fill Gordon's seat away, but the likeliest candidate is Chase Elliott, who as an 18-year-old became the first rookie to win the Xfinity (formerly Nationwide) Series championship. Elliott is slated to drive a limited Cup schedule in 2015 before a full-time move the following season.
Refusing to say the "R-word" (retirement) Gordon plans to still run a select number of races after the conclusion of the 2015 season, though nothing is formally announced, and remain involved with Hendrick in some capacity. He is an equity owner of Johnson's No. 48 car.
Gordon's success fueled NASCAR's popularity to unforeseen heights and played a prominent role in the expansion of stock-car racing out of the Southeast to a sport with television ratings and attendance on par with Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL.
Gordon's popularity was such in 2003 he even became the first -- and, to date, only -- driver to host Saturday Night Live.
"There's simply no way to quantify Jeff's impact," Hendrick said. "He's one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed. There's been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be."