The tributes said as much about
Gordon, who drives the No. 24 Chevrolet for
The announcement caught NASCAR Nation by surprise, but the tributes immediately poured in on Twitter -- Gordon's name there is @JeffGordonWeb -- and other social media.
"A total professional," teammate
The early years of Gordon's career were notable in part because of his on-track battles with Earnhardt's late father, seven-time champion
Besides his four Cup titles, the 43-year-old Gordon has 92 career victories, third on the all-time list behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Gordon's career winnings at the track total $145 million.
Indeed, the send-off celebration expected during Gordon's final season this year likely will be the biggest in NASCAR since Petty's farewell
Gordon made a strong effort toward winning a fifth championship last season before finishing sixth in the point standings.
Gordon "will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race," NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in a statement. But he also said Gordon's decision was "a bittersweet one. I'll miss his competitive fire on a weekly basis."
Drivers in other racing series also complimented Gordon.
"Talk about going out on top!" former IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti tweeted. "A good chance he could win another Cup in his final year."