Jeff Gordon has made winning look easy during most of his 21-year Sprint Cup Series career. And while the wins now come less frequently, the 42-year-old father of two insists he’s not ready to slow down yet.
His victory last Sunday at the Martinsville Speedway was the first of the season. He fought tears when he climbed from his No. 24 Chevrolet. After coming so close so many times this year, the team finally avoided their usual late-race problems.
And in the process, the four-time champion put himself in the mix for the Chase for the Championship.
“You’d say, wow, you never know when that next one is going to come,” Gordon said of this 88th career win. “I understand that better today than I ever have, just because the wins haven’t come as often. ... it makes you realize how hard it is to line all those stars up to make it happen.”
Eighty-one of Gordon’s 88 victories came through the 2007 season. In the last six years, that’s slowed down to just seven wins.
All four of his championships came before the 2002 season.
And while he knows he’s on the backside of a long career, he insists he has the same determination and skill as he did years ago. He is third in the Chase with three races to go, including Sunday’s Texas 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway, and within striking distance – 27 points – of co-leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
“It’s been a great battle with the No. 20 car (Kenseth) and the No. 24 (Gordon) is really showing that he wants to be a part of this deal, as well,” Johnson said.
Just how many charges Gordon has remaining isn’t clear. He has thought of retirement, perhaps as soon as the end of the 2014 season. For now, however, the only thing that matters is winning races – and championships.
“As far as I’m concerned, I want to keep racing as long as I can,” he said. “I can’t answer how long that will be. I evaluate it year from year.
“I think if you’ve had a good enough career and you’ve fulfilled all your dreams, then I think you can find that day when you just step away from it all together.”
In short, Gordon will retire when he knows he’s not capable of winning a championship.
Talk of retirement came at mid-season when he was struggling to finish strong in races. Last Sunday’s win triggered a lot of old memories.
“Now things have really been coming our way, and the momentum is there, and confidence is there,” he said. “The race cars are a lot of fun to drive, and just going to the racetrack right now is a lot of fun, and that makes a big difference.”
Gordon seems to have more support than ever. Fans embrace older drivers. After being booed for much of his career, most appreciate the way he stands up to – and occasionally beats – the younger drivers.
“We’re not protecting anything,” he said. “We just go and give it everything we’ve got.”
Which never gets old.