By Tom Jensen
Jeff Gordon already has the four-driver championship field handicapped for Sunday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Looking toward Kevin Harvick at Thursday's Championship 4 press conference in Hollywood, Florida, Gordon said of Harvick, "He's the favorite. We're the sentimentals." The "we," of course, was Gordon and fellow championship contenders Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Harvick comes into Sunday's race as the favorite, having won here last year in the first edition of the elimination round Chase format. But Gordon shouldn't be underestimated in the race. After all, the four-time champion led the most laps here last year and won this race outright in 2012. And he's absolutely fired up this time.
Gordon, of course, is preparing not only to race for a championship but to race for the very last time. Win, lose or draw, Sunday's Homestead event will be the 797th and final race of Gordon's Hall of Fame career. And the enormity of the moment is not lost on him.
"If I could have scripted this thing in January or February, I don't think I could have scripted it quite the way it's going," Gordon said. "You know, I never dreamed that we could have an opportunity to be battling for the championship in my final race."
And with the title shot so close, a lot is on the line. But winning three weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway turned Gordon's season around.
"Is there pressure? I feel like there's always pressure," said Gordon. "I think that more the way I'm looking at it is just going out in an awesome, fun way, and by winning that race in Martinsville and putting us in this elite group, That right there just was an incredible moment and something I'll never forget, and knowing that we were just going to come down here and be a part of that four, that right there in itself is a win."
Considering that Gordon has won 93 races, including five Brickyard 400s and three Daytona 500s, the upcoming Sunday shootout is really nothing new to him.
"There's a ton of pressure taken off all of us because we're just a part of it and we know that we can't be worse than fourth when this thing is all over," said Gordon. "But at the same time there's definitely pressure because we all want it. We all want it really badly. We all know that it's not going to come easily. To me that's the same pressure that we have very often in big races and big events and big moments in certain points of the race, and I don't think that that really is any different."
And Gordon will be ready to race, for sure.
Asked by FOXSports.com about whether the enormity of retirement had hit him yet, Gordon said it hadn't.
"No, not quite yet," said Gordon. "I mean, my emotions right now are just focused on the race."
And that could be good news for Gordon's fans and bad news for the competition.