MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Jeff Gordon insists he isn't necessarily in any rush to retire. And he didn't even raise the topic, he asserts. But the 42-year-old did actually say before the Daytona 500 that he would likely be inclined to conclude his 23-year Sprint Cup career if he were to capture a fifth championship this season.
That he concedes. Sort of.
"I was joking seriously," he grinned, impishly.
"Listen, I can't think of a better way to want to end the season, winning a championship. And I can't think of a better way of going out than being on top," he said on Friday at Martinsville Speedway. "At the time, all I was thinking about when they [the media] asked that question was winning a championship. I wasn't thinking, 'Well, I can't wait to stop racing.' If I won a championship, that would be the ultimate way. So somebody poses that question to me, I'm not sure how many more years I have anyway, so ... sounds good to me.
"I haven't won a championship in a long time. I'd be happy with that."
Martinsville Speedway could factor heavily into the calculus for Gordon, who won his most recent title in 2001. An eight-time winner at the .526-mile track -- tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the active lead -- Gordon could virtually assure qualification for that possible last Chase for the Sprint Cup with a victory on Sunday. He still knows his way around the place, having passed Matt Kenseth with 21 laps left last fall to claim his only victory of the season and end a 32-event winless streak.
Gordon had been installed into the 2013 Chase by decree of NASCAR chairman Brian France in September after it was determined his playoffs hopes were dashed by a race-manipulation scheme at Richmond that incurred massive sanctions for Michael Waltrip Racing. The unapologetic Gordon's controversial inclusion as a 13-seed was validated by the Martinsville win and rush to sixth in the final standings, his highest since finishing third in 2009.
Another victory on Sunday also would resonate strongly with Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports. A legacy of performance and pain at the rural Virginia track assures that. This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of Geoff Bodine's claiming the team's first Sprint Cup win here, and this fall will be a decade since a team plane traveling on race day crashed, killing all 10 aboard, including team owner Rick Hendrick's son, brother and two nieces.
Gordon and Johnson felt the urgency to deliver Hendrick the organization's 200th win here in 2012, but both were taken out while contesting the victory by a late wreck caused by Clint Bowyer. Such animosity festered thereafter that Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer later in the season at Phoenix International Raceway, sparking a brawl between the Gordon and Bowyer crews.