Senior staff writer
“Retirement – I never used that word but others did.”
Indiana’s Jeff Gordon made that statement during an interview on a Charlotte radio station less than a month before winning the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona on the four-driver Wayne Taylor Cadillac team.
Gordon stepped away from full-tine NASCAR Cup competition after being in contention for the 2015 championship but drove in eight races last year while Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered from concussion symptoms.
Gordon, who grew up in Pittsboro and was honored by his hometown in 2015, talked about leaving NASCAR after four championships and 93 wins for Rick Hendrick.
“When you do that for 23 years, it’s a grind,” Gordon said on a “Charlotte Talks” show with Mike Collins, “I was ready to stop driving full time.”
Gordon, 45, cited his family, his back problems and his many business interests.
Last month, Gordon and Ricky and Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli drove the Cadillac to victory. Gordon finished third in his only previous Rolex 24-hour Daytona in 2007. He joins the few drivers who have won the Daytona 500 and the 24-hour road course race.
“This is very surreal for me,” Gordon said. “I love driving this car; I love driving with this group.”
Gordon took part in NASCAR’s publicity rollout of its new playoff system to decide the 2017 Cup Series championship. He represented his varied interests from driving champion, team owner and Fox broadcaster.
“We agreed we needed to make more moments happen within the race and this, breaking it up into stages really did that,” Gordon said. “That was part of that enhanced experience for the fans as well as more green-flag racing.”
Gordon said the segments would make it easier for scheduled commercial breaks.
He never won a championship under The Chase format, but he embraces the new playoff system that awards championship points to each segment winner and top-10 finishers as well as the regular 40-point structure at the end of the race. Drivers also can earn playoff points.
The new playoff system, Gordon contends, will take NASCAR racing to its next level.