DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jeff Gordon will not close the door on running a Sprint Cup race or two next season, but he is adamant that this will be his final Daytona 500.
On the eve of Gordon’s final full Cup season, he gave a clearer indication of what he wants this season – and next – to be about.
He doesn’t want rocking-chair tributes at each track because he says he will be back next season to do such things with tracks and fans. The focus this year is on winning races and a championship. Next year will be about having fun.
Gordon also said Thursday that he will not run in restrictor-plate races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway beyond this season.
Those high-speed, calamity-around-the-corner tracks helped raise Gordon’s stature. His first career win in NASCAR’s top series came in a qualifying race at Daytona in 1993 at age 21. His daring move by Rusty Wallace late in the 1999 Daytona 500 sent Gordon to Victory Lane. He swept both Talladega races in 2007 – the last time a driver has won both races there in the same season.
All told, 12 of Gordon’s 92 career wins have come in a style of racing where so many more drivers have a chance at winning that it’s akin to a lottery. Yet, Gordon often beat them all.
Gordon said the reason is simple for his decision to forego plate races after this season.
“It’s just … the risk versus reward,’’ he said during Daytona 500 Media Day.
Gordon, though, expressed interest in running next season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – where he’s a five-time winner – and Martinsville Speedway – where he’s won eight times.
“The Brickyard is not that kind of a race,’’ Gordon said, alluding to restrictor-plate races. “While it’s a white-knuckle qualifying experience, the race to me is methodical and with the right car, the right team, you can be very successful in that race. I’m not saying I’m going to do that, I’m just leaving it open. I would put Martinsville probably higher on the list.’’
Gordon is focused on what’s immediately before him.
He knows he’ll be emotional this season. Gordon just doesn’t know when or where it will happen.
“It just hits me,’’ he said. “Sometimes it’s just reading a tweet or a text or sometimes it’s as I’m talking through it. That day we made that announcement, I knew it was going to be tough, but I had no idea it was going to be as tough as it was.
“Everything’s been pretty good since then and I get (to Daytona) and everything’s kind of business as usual and normal, but on race day, when I wake up, I don’t know, it might all hit me again or when I hop in the car. I can promise you if we win the race, that for sure will be an emotional moment.’’
Gordon says he knows this year will be challenging not only on the track but off it with the focus on his final full season. More friends and family members have requested tickets to races this year. Gordon has told tracks he’d prefer to not do farewell celebrations, saving those for next season.
“I just want to stay focused and do my thing,’’ Gordon said. “I’ve got a great team with a great opportunity to go win a lot of races and win this championship this year, and I don’t want to take that for granted.’’