Is Gordon Headed For Special Year?

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon celebrates his fifth Brickyard 400 win while his crew enjoys his smoke show. (Photo: Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS - It’s a question many of us will not have to face for years, yet have no problem debating when it comes to athletes.

When is it time to quit?

Jeff Gordon was “jokingly serious’’ in January when he said he would retire if he won the Sprint Cup title this season. Sunday’s Brickyard 400 victory - his record fifth - elevated Gordon’s title-contending status because of the track’s penchant for its winners going on to win the crown in the same season.

If Gordon achieves that double, it would mark the ninth time in 21 years the Brickyard winner has also won the championship that season. And it would give Gordon his fifth series title at age 43 (his birthday is Aug. 4).

The points leader for much of this season and now a two-time winner, Gordon heads to the Chase as one of the sport’s top drivers so there is no need to retire now even if he won the crown.

Yet, how much longer will he go? How many more weekends will fans see Gordon guide that No. 24 car through traffic, race away from the field and collect more checkered flags? Now that he’s at 90 career Cup wins, can he become only the third driver to reach 100?

He once thought he’d be done racing by the time he was 40 but that was when 40 seemed so far off one imagined there would be flying cars by that time. Instead, cars remained on the ground but his hair was tinged with gray when he reached that age.

Even as he moves closer to the end of his career, Gordon says his team and this season have “rejuvenated” him.

“I'm not thinking about anything else, in all honesty, other than going race to race in this season to try to battle for a championship,’’ Gordon said.

He’s also motivated by family. His children are becoming old enough to understand how good daddy is and will have memories of Victory Lane visits.

“There’s nothing better, especially at one of the biggest races to have your family here,’’ he said in Victory Lane.

At some point, Gordon will have to think about when his career will end. He doesn’t seem to be one who will be racing when he is 50 years old as Mark Martin did in 2009, winning five races for Hendrick Motorsports that season.

Even so, Gordon wonders how he’ll replace the competitive feeling racing provides.

“I think that when that day comes and I'm not driving, I'm going to have to fuel that desire being competitive in me some way, somehow, whether it means that I go drive something else  just for fun or if my kids are involved or my role at Hendrick Motorsports,’’ he said.

Choosing when to retire is among the toughest decisions an athlete can make. One could argue Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip went too long but did Rusty Wallace leave too soon?

Gordon seems to be one that would rather leave when he’s still among the best in the sport instead leaving as he runs in the middle of the pack. With Hendrick Motorsports the sport’s top team, Gordon will continue to have some of the best equipment, so the decision will be where he feels his skills are.

Now, they seem to be nearly as good as ever.

It’s been 13 years since Gordon last won a series title and five years since he finished in the top five in points, but is Gordon headed for a special season? If so, how many of these seasons remain for Gordon fans to relish?

Enjoy them now.  

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