If any highlight of Jeff Gordon's final season sticks out, the victory celebration at Martinsville likely tops the list.
"We're going to Homestead!" Gordon shrieked like a schoolboy after his triumph in November.
The four-time Sprint Cup champion likely won't ever race Martinsville again, and he knows that a moment of pure joy such as that one might never come again for him in any professional setting.
"I don't know if anything can quite fulfill that, other than seeing my kids excel at something and do something extraordinary that I would be really proud of," Gordon said Tuesday. "That would probably be the only thing that could either match it or top it."
Gordon has transitioned well into his NASCAR retirement by being part of the Fox broadcast booth. And while he knows he won't have that feeling of sheer joy, Gordon also knows he won't have to feel the pressure of a Sprint Cup competitor.
His burden is wanting to do well every time the television camera goes on and the mic goes hot. But it's nothing like getting in a race car and having to perform on Sundays against the best in the world. He admits he has a pretty good deal right now.
"There's pressure but not the same kind of pressure," Gordon said. "And I'm enjoying that. At 44 years old, the place that I am at in life, I look forward to going to the racetrack and enjoying myself at the racetrack.
"I was ready for that. . . . I'm probably putting more pressure on myself than I anticipated being in the booth, but I can tell you it's not like being in the race car."
If he has strong feelings to get back into a race car, Gordon certainly isn't showing it, though Martinsville might be one place where he yearns to race a little more than most. He has nine career victories on the 0.526-mile oval.
As long as he holds an equity stake in Hendrick Motorsports and Hendrick has four cars, Gordon can't race in Sprint Cup unless he competes for Hendrick because of NASCAR's rule that an owner or driver cannot have a financial stake in, or benefit from the performance of, more than four cars. Gordon's stake in HMS already maxes him out at four.
He could drive a truck at Martinsville, but Gordon indicated that he would be more apt to compete in something under the NASCAR umbrella that wasn't a national stock car series. The Corvette sports car program is the one that would seem most logical, either at the Rolex 24 At Daytona (run by NASCAR subsidiary IMSA) or the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Gordon appears quite content with his retirement. A year ago, he sat 22nd in the standings five races into the season.
"I thought I would go through that final season with that [just enjoy it] attitude, with that mindset, and that didn't work out so well," Gordon said. "We weren't performing well enough. I wasn't probably as engaged in the race team and the race car as much as I need to because I thought, 'I'm going to just go and enjoy this season as much as possible.'
"You can't do that as a competitor. You just can't. There is too much hard work and effort, too much competition, to just go about it that way."
Most of the time, Gordon is OK with Martinsville being his last win, and his last season ending up with a third-place finish in the standings. He has thoroughly enjoyed his time watching from above.
"I'm just realizing what a huge fan I am of the sport," Gordon said. "I never looked at it that way when I was driving. I always looked at myself as a competitor and I liked the competition.
"I always knew I was a fan of the sport but not to that level -- when I'm up there in the booth, I get excited [about] what I'm seeing. . . . It could be in practice. I've had some of the most fun just watching things in practice."
Gordon said he believes he would have had a tough time if he had retired and did not have something to keep him immersed in the sport. It has made the transition from driver to retired driver much easier.
He does miss competition meetings as well as being part of what he would call the "driver club."
"I miss being on the group text [of drivers] -- they took me off the group text," Gordon said with a laugh. "I'm not on the drivers council . . . I guess I miss some of the interaction with the drivers. There is definitely a difference -- they look at me differently: 'Can we trust him? He's one of us, but he's not really one of us anymore.'
"I still sense respect from other drivers because I am just stepping out, but at the same time they're looking at me as, 'Hey, don't give too much information up there. That doesn't help us out a whole lot.' "
After 23 years as part of the Sprint Cup driver club, Gordon understands it is part of the transition and has no ill will. He has the memories of 93 victories, including the last one at Martinsville where he spent part of the celebration running along the crowd giving high-fives.
He won't get to celebrate with fans Sunday. He'll get to be one of them.
"It probably was one of the greatest victory celebrations I have ever experienced throughout my career, especially because you're so close to the fans," Gordon said. "How could you not miss those moments like that? But overall, I really enjoy analyzing the things teams are doing."