Many race fans were surprised, saddened or maybe thrilled that two of NASCAR’s biggest names have chosen 2015 to be the year to announce their retirement from the Sprint Cup series.
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Chevy Monte Carlo for Hendrick Motorsports, will trade in his racing suit after 23 years in NASCAR following the championship race at Homestead this season while Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevy Monte Carlo for Stewart-Haas Racing, will call it quits after the 2016 season.
“I’ve always said I wanted to step away on my own terms if possible,” Gordon said. “I want to be competitive out there and I hoped that I could do that all the way through my final year.”
Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, has made the decision to join the NASCAR coverage crew with FOX Sports beginning in 2016 as well as maintain his partnership with Hendrick Motorsports with owner Rick Hendrick.
“I thank him (Gordon) for all he’s done to help our company,” Hendrick said. “I look forward to him helping the company grow. He’s got so much talent in other areas that being a partner will make him be just a tremendous asset outside of the car.”
On Sept. 27, Gordon earned the record of most consecutive starts without missing a race when he surpassed Ricky Rudd’s 788 consecutive starts.
To date, Gordon has 790 with seven more races to go. Gordon is also a five-time Daytona 500 champion and has 92 career wins. Chase Elliott will step into the Hendrick No. 24 car in 2016. Elliott is former NASCAR driver Bill Elliott’s son.
Tony Stewart announced Sept. 30 that following the 2016 season, he will retire from the NASCAR Sprint Cup series but will be quick to tell you that he’s not retiring from racing altogether.
“This was a choice that was 100 percent mine,” Stewart said. “I think it’s a scenario where everybody in their career at some point makes the decision that it’s time for a change, it’s nothing that you plan. I am still going to race. I’m not retiring from racing, I’m just retiring from the Cup Series.”
Stewart has endured back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014 that left him missing 11 races with a broken leg after a Sprint car crash and three races following the accidental death of Kevin Ward during a Sprint car race in New York.
While many would think those two circumstances were considerations in Stewart’s decision, he is quick to answer that they are not.
“Those situations had zero, not 1 percent anything to do with it,” Stewart said. “This is strictly what I want to do and my leg feels fine. There is nothing wrong with my leg. The tragedy, nothing is going to change that. It happened, but it’s not going to direct the rest of my life. I’m still going to go race when I want to go race, but as far as the Cup Series, it had no bearing on that.”
Stewart is a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and is the only driver to win championships in the Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown series. He has 583 Sprint Cup starts with 48 wins in 17 seasons. Through many series, Stewart has more than 34 years in racing.
Stewart-Haas had already chosen who will succeed Stewart when the announcement was made on Sept. 30. Michael Waltrip driver Clint Bowyer will sit in the 14 seat at the start of the 2017 season.
“Our goal for next year is winning races,” Stewart said. “We’re going to try to win the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Brickyard and go for that fourth championship. This added year is not just a ride-it-out year. This is a season where we’re going to gouge our eyes out and do everything we can to win races.”
One thing that both Stewart and Gordon share is their love for the fans and giving it one more year to say a formal good-bye.
“The reason we decided to go ahead and run through the end of next year is 100 percent because of the fans who have supported us through the years,” Stewart said. “I’ve seen and followed what Jeff had done this year and see how much it’s meant to the fans to watch him race and knowing that it’s their last year to watch him. It’s important to me to be able to do this for our fans.”
Jeff Gordon is still in the running for the 2015 Sprint Cup Championship as they move into Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500 on Sunday. Gordon is one of 12 drivers to advance to the “Contender” round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.