Gordon still has years left in him

February, 12, 2010
02/12/10
3:34
PM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When will Jeff Gordon retire?

I pondered this while drying out on a Friday better suited for submarine races at Daytona International Speedway.

Not sure why, other than procrastination on writing another team preview and lamenting the blog about Jimmie Johnson's reference to the urban dictionary that'll never see the light of day.

There was a time when 2010 was going to be Gordon's last season. He's told several people that in the past and admitted it to reporters last week on media day. Then last season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, team owner Rick Hendrick said the four-time champion was committed through 2013.

"I don't want to put a date on it," Gordon said on media day.

Gordon will be 42 in 2013. I'm betting he won't drive that long. I'm betting he'll stop after the 2011 season. Among all the dates he's thrown out in the past, the age of 40 has been consistent.

He will turn 39 this season.

Then again, who knows? Mark Martin started stepping away from the sport after the 2006 season. Now he's on the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500 -- at age 51. Bill Elliott doesn't drive a full-time schedule, but at 54, he's in the 500 in the famous No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.

It's hard for us to understand fully how hard it is for drivers -- and athletes in general -- to step away from that competitive spirit that drives them. Just look at Brett Favre. He's been on a retirement tour almost as long as Martin.

As long as Gordon thinks he can compete at the top level and have a chance at a fifth championship, he'll likely hang around. Deep down, I believe, he'd like to get one more than teammate Jimmie Johnson, even if it's temporary because Johnson has several more in him.

Don't be surprised if Gordon wins the 500. He's been fast all week and nobody has noticed because of Danica Patrick, Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. He also is one of the best restrictor-plate drivers around.

But back to when he'll retire. Only he knows for sure.

"You have to be healthy, competitive, you know?" Gordon said. "If you have those two things, then you're going to hopefully enjoy doing what you're doing. Those … components are what's gonna keep me in the sport until that day or season comes to an end."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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