Jeff Gordon’s Retirement Was No Surprise to Hendrick Motorsports


Jeff Gordon’s retirement announcement came as a surprise to many people in the sport. The 43-year-old Vallejo, California native officially told his fellow Hendrick Motorsports employees on Thursday morning but the announcement didn’t come as a surprise to Rick Hendrick.

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It was announced in November that the organization had resigned Kasey Kahne to a three-year contract extension after the 2015 season, meaning that Kahne would drive for Hendrick Motorsports through the 2018 season. The contract extension was an interesting one because Kahne has struggled the last two seasons and it would have been an easy way to get out and make room for Chase Elliott.

Elliott is a Hendrick Motorsports development driver and prior to the 2014 season signed a two year contract with JR Motorsports to drive the team’s No. 9 entry. NAPA Auto Parts had signed with the 18-year-old driver to help develop him for a run in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2016. Elliott won the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in his first year in the series winning three races along the way. It was an impressive season for Elliott and only fueled speculation that Elliott was moving to the Sprint Cup Series in the near future.

Everyone thought that Elliott would replace the struggling Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports. The other drivers at Hendrick Motorsports appeared untouchable. Jimmie Johnson practically has a lifetime contract at Hendrick Motorsports and is a six-time series champion. Dale Earnhardt Jr has a contract through the 2017 season and is coming off his best season since the 2004 season. Earnhardt won four races and is NASCAR’s most popular driver. Neither Earnhardt nor Johnson are going anyway anytime soon.

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That appeared to be the case with Jeff Gordon. Gordon also has a lifetime contract at Hendrick Motorsports and he to, like Earnhardt, was coming off a four win season in the 2014 season. He was arguably in the top three all season long but Thursday’s announcement changed all that speculation. In the aftermath of Gordon’s announcement we have learned via the AP that Gordon made up his mind last summer that 2015 was going to be his final full-time season. In the same release we also learned that Gordon told his crew chief of his decision after being knocked out of the chase and one would have to assume that he told Hendrick around the same time.

It’s incredible that people knew about this for months and it never leaked.

In NASCAR a successful team works two years ahead of themselves. Hendrick Motorsports is the most successful team in NASCAR and Gordon, as a courtesy to his boss and friend Rick Hendrick,  informed him of his decision and it’s quite possible that Gordon leaned on Hendrick for advice during the process. When Gordon informed Hendrick of his decision, that led the team to re-sign Kasey Kahne to a three-year extension, which after the season became a no-brainer.

While some people thought Elliott would drive with another organization under Hendrick affiliation in the 2015 season, Kahne’s contract extension should have plugged us all into the fact that the 43-year-old Gordon was ready to call it a career after 23 seasons.

There were a lot of people surprised at the announcement Gordon made on Thursday. The hierarchy at Hendrick Motorsports though, weren’t the least bit surprised.