(Adds Gordon comments from news conference, France statement)
By Steve Ginsburg
Jan 22 (Reuters) - Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who ranks third in all-time race wins, said on Thursday the 2015 season would be his last as a full-time driver.
Gordon, 43, has three Daytona 500 victories and a record five Brickyard 400 wins.
”This is something that I’ve certainly been thinking about for years,“ Gordon told a teleconference. ”I always said I wanted to step away on my own terms, if possible.
“This is the right time. It really became clear about halfway through last season.”
Gordon, who won the NASCAR series title in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001, said he did not “foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing” and retire.
“Retirement means you go off to a beach somewhere or sit in a rocking chair on the front porch drinking coffee and petting the dog,” he said. “That’s not me. I plan on working.”
Gordon said he wanted to “leave himself open” to getting back in a car, whether it was in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide series or in one of NASCAR’s truck races.
“Heck, I was just out in the desert driving buggies and it made me want to do the Baja 1000,” he said.
Gordon has driven for Hendrick Motorsports since November 1992.
“It’s going to be awkward and strange when I walk in the garage area and I don’t see Jeff sitting in the 24 car,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of the NASCAR team. “But that’s a year away. I want to win the championship with him this year.”
Gordon’s 92 victories rank third on the all-time NASCAR list behind Hall of Famers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).
Gordon finished sixth in the NASCAR standings in 2014.
A California native on a racing circuit with Southern roots, Gordon is credited with bringing a new look to the sport and helping usher in an unprecedented wave of popularity.
“Jeff Gordon transcends NASCAR and will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race,” NASCAR CEO Brian France said in a statement. “We have all enjoyed watching his legend grow for more than two decades, and will continue to do so during his final full-time season.”
Gordon, who is an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, said he would “remain heavily involved” in the company for “many years to come.” (Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)