Jeff Gordon reaches 'last race' as sub, but 'never say never'

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Jeff Gordon hasn't invited any big guests such as Lewis Hamilton or Mario Andretti at the Sprint Cup race Sunday and he has no big postrace party planned as he did for what many thought would be his final NASCAR race last November at Homestead.

While the four-time Cup champion wouldn't call the race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway as his official last NASCAR race, he said he has no plans to race in NASCAR again following the Goody's Fast Relief 500.

Gordon came out of retirement this year in a substitute role as Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovers from a concussion. He has competed in seven races this year and the Martinsville race is his last one planned in a substitute role for the Hendrick Motorsports team where he remains an equity owner.

"This is my last race," the 45-year-old Gordon said with a laugh while using airquotes to emphasize the last two words. "Your guess is as good as mine. I can promise you that I had no intentions of this happening. But here I am.

"So never say never is all I know what to say. I really don't think that I'll be getting back in the Cup car again. But go ask Rick Hendrick."

Gordon competed in four consecutive races starting with Indianapolis in July and then three more in a six-race stretch. His best finish was 10th four weeks ago at Dover, the last time he has driven the Hendrick No. 88 car in sharing the substitute role with young driver Alex Bowman.

"I hope in the future that the drivers don't have a situation like what we have with Junior where we need somebody to fill in for them," said Gordon, who believes Earnhardt will return as hoped for the 2017 Daytona 500. "But this little bit of experience has been good for me, good for the organization and we had a little bit of fun with it as well.

"If I had to do it, then certainly I would. But I don't anticipate it."

If any track beyond Indianapolis could lure Gordon back to the driver's seat, Martinsville would rank high on the list. He won the race at Martinsville a year ago, his ninth career victory at NASCAR's shortest track and the 93rd (and possibly last) victory of his career.

"There is a part of me that wasn't sure if I wanted to come back and take away from that, but at the same time, I've always said if there was one track where I felt like I could get back in the car and feel comfortable and competitive, it's this track," Gordon said.

"For that, I'm happy that I'm here."

Gordon teammate Jimmie Johnson wouldn't call this Gordon's last race. Gordon competed in 797 consecutive races through the end of last year and transitioned to the television booth for Fox, which telecasts the first 16 Cup points races each year.

"That is so hard to say," Johnson said. "He is one heck of a sub to have sitting on the bench when you need it. We will see. I'm not sure he is ready to completely stop.

"I think he was ready to get off the merry-go-round of 39 races a year, but the full stop I don't think he is ready for."