It's happening, 7-time champion (4 time champion and 3 time NASCAR AP-Poll winner i.e. No Chase B.S.) Jeff Gordon is leaving full-time NASCAR competition (he doesn't want to use the word retire, so I will refrain even though it basically is).
This is a day that Jeff Gordon fans like me knew would come. I really wanted today's headline to read...
Jeff Gordon Pulls Early April Fools Joke on Fans and Says This is His Final Season
2015 Will Be Jeff Gordon's Final Championship Run as NASCAR Changes the Rules Forbidding Drivers to Win Championships
Jeff Gordon Continues to Toil with Travis Okulski's Emotions: Pranks His Retirement
But alas that is not the case. It was getting closer and closer with every season, every race, every piece of B.S. that would rob Jeff of his next deserved championship. However, I am still surprised. I didn't expect this year to be it. 2020, 2025, 2030, maybe. Hell, I expected Jeff Gordon's career ending headline to read...
Jeff Gordon Dies From Heart Attack Before Attempting His 2053rd Race at the Age of 106.
I grew up around Jeff Gordon's NASCAR career. I also "grew up" around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I cannot tell you how I became a Jeff Gordon fan, but I remember watching many Indy 500's and vaguely remember the 1994 Brickyard. I do remember the 1998 race, and I attribute these as the reasons I became a NASCAR fan. I was lucky enough to be at the Brickyard for the 2005 win as a fan and the 2014 win a track worker.
Like many other Jeff Gordon fans, this is heartbreaking... Jeff Gordon leaving NASCAR is like losing a long time family pet. You count on them being there every time, and the day that they are not, you are lost and don't know what to do with yourself. Every week for the past 20+ years, I could count on watching Jeff Gordon race around the track every Sunday while watching my commercials (<- occasionally a NASCAR race would pop on).
For the fans of other sports (i.e. Football Basketball, etc.), this is not the same as when Brett Favre retired, or Michael Jordan, or Joe Montana, or Wayne Gretsky. No, this is like if you are a Steelers fan and the Pittsburgh Steelers announced they were disbanding at the end of the next season. You are lost, confused, not really sure what direction you will turn the following year.
2015 will be the end of an era in NASCAR. NASCAR changed when Richard Petty retired, when Dale Earnhardt died, and when Jeff Gordon retires, NASCAR will change again. The cars may not change, the rules may not change (but let's be honest they will), but the persona of NASCAR will. Jeff Gordon is one of the last staples of 1990's early 2000's NASCAR that drew everyone to the sport. Looking at the field now, the only drivers from that era that are still competitive include Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Jr.
What will NASCAR become? I can't say, with Jeff Gordon gone, there will be a big hole in the sport. I, myself, can't think of a driver that I would immediate switch my allegiance to once Jeff Gordon leaves. It just doesn't work like that. Will I continue to watch NASCAR, probably, but something will be missing... It just won't feel the same.
I am not okay with Jeff Gordon leaving, I will never be. I can't imagine NASCAR without Jeff Gordon on track, but it doesn't look like I need to imagine it, because it is bound to happen, a little sooner than we all thought...