Concord, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Jeff Gordon isn't retiring from racing after the 2015 season, but the 43-year-old driver is making this his last year competing for a championship in the Sprint Cup Series.
Gordon, a four-time champion in NASCAR's premier series, announced to his Hendrick Motorsports team and then revealed on Twitter on Thursday that this will be his final year competing for a title. He has driven the No. 24 Chevrolet for team owner Rick Hendrick in the series since November 1992.
His Cup championships occurred in 1995, '97, '98 and 2001.
"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 a team statement. "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."
Since his Cup debut in the '92 season-ending race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gordon has made 761 consecutive and career starts. His 92 career victories places him third on the series' all-time race winners list, behind only Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Among those race wins include three in the Daytona 500 and a record five in the Brickyard 400. Gordon also holds the record for most victories on road courses with nine.
Gordon had one of his best seasons since his most recent championship in '01. He won four races, including the Brickyard 400, and had a series-high 23 top-10 finishes. Gordon came up one point short of advancing into the final four for the Nov. 16 championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He finished sixth in the point standings.
"There's simply no way to quantify Jeff's impact," said Hendrick, who first noticed Gordon during a race at Atlanta in March '92. "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. I will never be able to properly express the respect and admiration I have for Jeff and how meaningful our relationship is to me. I'm so grateful for everything he's done for our company and my family, and I look forward to many more years together as friends and business partners."
HMS said in a news release that it will announce plans for its 2016 team alignment at a later date. Jimmie Johnson, the six-time Sprint Cup champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most-popular driver, and Kasey Kahne also drive for the organization.
Gordon has been dealing with back problems in previous years. Last May, he suffered from back spasms during the weekend of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He completed that race, finishing seventh, but Xfinity Series regular Regan Smith was on standby.
Gordon is 27 races away from tying Ricky Rudd's record of 788 consecutive starts in the series.
"I don't foresee a day when I'll ever step away from racing," Gordon said. "I'm a fan of all forms of motorsports, 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."
In learning of Gordon's announcement, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France released a statement, saying, "Jeff Gordon transcends NASCAR and will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race. 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."
The 2015 Sprint Cup season begins with the Feb. 22 Daytona 500.