Jeff Gordon feels pressure with making his final start at Sonoma

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While his final season as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver began at the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, Jeff Gordon begins the true final countdown this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

Sonoma is the 16th race on the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule. With the exception of New Hampshire Motor Speedway (which still has two races to host this season), from this point on Gordon will be racing for the last time at the 20 tracks that still have a race to host on this year’s schedule.

That means it will be the last time fans will see him race at places like Daytona, Indianapolis, Bristol, Darlington, Talladega, Texas and the season-ending race and his career finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“At (Sonoma), especially, it’s starting to sink in,” Gordon said. “It was hard at Atlanta (the second race of the season and his last race there). It was so early in the season and we had so much racing left to go.

“And even still, there’s a lot left to go. We’re focused on winning at a lot of tracks and the Chase and everything else. But because of what (Sonoma President/GM Steve Page) and all the folks at Sonoma have done, and just family and friends out here, it does feel different, a little more emotional, and I think that will ramp up through Sunday.”

Say what you want about Gordon and his success at other tracks, but no other stop on the Sprint Cup circuit comes close to Gordon’s mastery of the 1.99-mile, twisting 12-turn layout of Sonoma.

During his 22-season career, Gordon has nine overall wins on road courses, including five wins at Sonoma, both NASCAR records.

He also is the leader at Sonoma in starts (22), wins (5), poles (5), top fives (14), top 10s (18), laps led (457) and average finish (7.8).

Of note, Gordon has finished in the top 10 at Sonoma 82 percent of the time.

And even though his last win at Sonoma came in 2006, he still knows how to wheel his way around the place, with nine consecutive top-10 finishes there, including runner-up showings in the last two races and three of the last four.

“This has been a very special place to me and always will be, but to know that this is the final time I’ll be driving here,” Gordon said. “Just the buildup, going to Rio Linda, that quarter-mile track last week, the first place I’ve ever raced at, just built a lot of emotion into what’s occurring this weekend. It also adds pressure that I want to do really well this weekend.”

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