Jeff Gordon is enjoying a slight resurgence in his career after being added to the Chase after the scandal at Richmond. He has made the most of this second chance by showing he still has the ability to compete for a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
However, even a four-time champion can’t beat Father Time. The ticking becomes a little louder after each race. Gordon is a long way from his “Boy Wonder” days, and much closer to giving up the seat in the number 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet he made famous.
In fact, many would say Rick Hendrick, Gordon’s team owner, has already chosen his replacement. Chase Elliott, the son of a NASCAR legend himself, Bill Elliott, is currently working his way up the sports ladder as part of the team’s driver development program.
Chase has wins in the ARCA Series, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. His next logical step would be into either a full-time Truck or Nationwide Series ride. The next three years will, most likely, consist of at least a part-time effort in Nationwide, if not the whole season. Followed by a year chasing the Nationwide championship in 2015, and at least a few Sprint Cup starts in 2016, as he prepares for a full-time effort there in 2017.
This schedule would be perfect for preparing Chase to take over the 24 after the 2016 season. That season would just happen to be Gordon’s 24th. What better scenario could there be than for Gordon to retire after his 24th season. Richard Petty will forever be associated with the 43, and Dale Earnhardt with the 3, but only Gordon will be able to have a retirement season so associated with his car number.
There are more clues than just the progression of Chase Elliott’s career to indicate Gordon’s 24th season will be his last. Axalta, his current sponsor, has signed on for at least ten races in each of his next three seasons. This puts the end of this contract in the 2016 season.
Gordon will be 44 years old in 2016. He will want to go out still being thought of as competitive. That kind of effort takes big sponsorship dollars. Even a four-time champion would have difficulty securing a sponsor at that age. As such, don’t look for Gordon to become a part-time driver like Mark Martin has become after his “retirement.”
Jeff Gordon is already wealthy enough to do anything he wants, or nothing at all, after his driving days are done. He could go into broadcasting, or even become more of a team owner than his present stake in Jimmie Johnson’s number 48 Lowes team.
24 and no more. Can’t you see the t-shirts now?