Jeff Gordon To Retire After 2015 Season

No. 24 – Jeff Gordon

After 23 seasons, 92 wins and four championships, Jeff Gordon has decided to call it a career.

And what a career is has been.

Gordon, at 43 years of age and the current active leader in victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, announced Thursday that he will retire from full-time competition following the 2015 Sprint Cup season,

Gordon informed his team during a meeting at the shops of Hendrick Motorsports, where Gordon has spent his entire 23-year Sprint Cup career.

"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 statement released by the team. "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.

Gordon's debut in 1992 at Atlanta

"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."

When Gordon takes the checkered flag at this year's season-finale at Homestead, he will draw the curtain on a stellar career that helped introduce in a new generation of fans to the sport, paved the way for dozens of young up-and-coming drivers, and helped usher in a new era for stock car racing.

Gordon, an open-wheel hotshoe from Indiana, began his NASCAR career in the then-Busch Series driving for owner Bill Davis before moving up to the Cup Series as a rookie in 1992 driving for Rick Hendrick.

Gordon's first career start was in the 1992 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which also happened to the final race for seven-time champion Richard Petty.

Jeff Gordon in victory lane following the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 1994 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 22-year-old's first NASCAR Cup Series win.
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The torch was being passed.

Gordon would capture his first Cup win the following year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, becoming just the second driver following David Pearson to notch his first victory in NASCAR's longest race. It was just taste of things to come.

Just three months later, Gordon would make history with a win in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, cementing his name into the lexicon of American motorsports.

As NASCAR's popularity boomed in the last half of the '90's, Gordon's star power rose with it. He quickly became one of the sport's most marketable drivers, and his trademark no. 24 and multi-hued DuPont-sponsored Chevrolets became synonymous with the sport – on par with the iconic black no.3 of "The Intimidator", Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt was one of Gordon's first rivals, and the two sparred frequently on the track – and off. After winning the second Brickyard 400, Earnhardt claimed his was the first "man" to win the Brickyard, "'Wonder Boy' won the first one," said Earnhardt. The nickname stuck.

Gordon proved his mettle by beating out Earnhardt in a landslide to claim his first Sprint Cup title in 1995. At the age of 23, he was the youngest champion in NASCAR history, leading Earnhardt to claim if Gordon won the title, "He'll have to toast everyone with milk."

During the season-ending awards banquet, Gordon did just that, raising a glass of milk to toast Earnhardt, further cementing their competitive rivalry.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Gordon won back to back titles in 1997 and again in 1998, where he won 13 races – the most since Richard Petty in 1975. In all, he's collected 92 Sprint Cup victories – third all-time behind Petty and Pearson.

Gordon's impressive win total earned him legions of fans, but also earned him the ire of fans who grew tired of seeing "Wonder Boy" win race after race. It wasn't uncommon for the boos to drown out the cheers whenever he came out for driver introductions.

Still, Gordon remained a standard bearer for the sport, and earned a reputation as an easy guy to get along with in the garage, among competitors and media alike, and remained endearing to his fans.

Gordon won his fourth Sprint Cup title in 2001. That same year, Gordon met a young Busch Series driver named Jimmie Johnson, who impressed Gordon enough to bring him to the attention of car-owner Rick Hendrick. The following year, Johnson made his debut in the Cup Series driving for a team co-owned by Hendrick and Gordon.

Johnson, or course, would go on to win six Sprint Cup titles, and helped team owner Rick Hendrick collect an impressive 231 victories in the Sprint Cup Series.

Hendrick and Gordon on the Coca-Cola 600 grid in 2011
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"There's simply no way to quantify Jeff's impact," said Hendrick. "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."

As the years went on, the wear and tear began to take its toll. Although he hasn't missed a race in 761 starts, Gordon began experiencing back trouble in recent years, including a bout of back spasms at Charlotte last May that threatened his consecutive start streak. Gordon battled through, but admitted about the thought of retirement "if that happens many more times, I won't have a choice" about retiring.

Gordon now says, after 23 years, the time is right to call it a career.

"This is the right time," said Gordon. "I think it really became clear about halfway through last season that it was definitely going to be. Rick kept talking me into going longer and longer and longer. And I kept saying no, I think this is the year. I think this is the year. Finally about halfway through last year I said, no. I always said I wanted to step away on my own terms if possible, and I want to be competitive out there, and I hoped that I could do that all the way through my final year.

"This is it, Boss, and we agreed and the timing was good for me, good for Hendrick and other opportunities that are out in front of us."

Gordon says he has no plans to run a part-time or limited schedule in the Cup Series after his final race at Homestead, but didn't rule out a run in the XFINITY or truck series.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]As for the future of the no.24 car, Hendrick Motorsports has another young hotshoe waiting in the wings by the name of Chase Elliott – the son of 1988 Cup Champion Bill Elliott – who will be starting his second season in the XFINITY Series after winning the series title in his rookie year.

But for now, Hendrick is keeping those details under wraps.

"We're going to kind of focus on Jeff and what he's accomplished, and then at a later time we'll kind of focus on who is going to be in the car," said Hendrick.

"It's going to be surely awkward and strange when I walk in the garage area and I don't see Jeff sitting in the 24 car. But at the same time, I'm looking at it like, man, that's a year away. So it's bittersweet, but I'm just kind of putting off that he's not going to be in the car because he's going to be in a car for another year.

"I think he said it all. He wanted to do it on his terms. He's just meant so much to me, the sport, the drivers, young guys owe him so much. He broke a lot of barriers to help people get into the sport, and he's just been an icon in our sport. So I'm anxious to see the next chapter."

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