Gordon to lead Brickyard 400 field as pace-car driver

In this Nov. 14, 2014, file photo, Jeff Gordon celebrates after qualifying laps for the EcoBoost 400 auto race in Homestead, Fla. Gordon says he will retire as a full-time driver after the 2015 season. (AP Photo/Darryl Graham, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jeff Gordon will get another opportunity to lead the Brickyard 400 field — and this time, he’s not planning to come out of retirement to do it.

Two years after bidding farewell to his local fans, the only five-time race winner will return to Indy’s historic 2.5-mile oval as the pace-car driver next month.

“This has been a very special race over the years — for me and NASCAR,” Gordon said in a statement issued Thursday by race officials. “Winning at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a dream of mine as a kid. I’m excited to lead the field to green at this year’s Brickyard 400.”

Gordon is a native of California but attended high school just a short drive away from Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Pittsboro, Indiana.

He won the inaugural Brickyard in 1994 and the Rainbow Warrior has started every race in Indy since, claiming three poles and producing 17 top-10 finishes. Last year, organizers also wanted to make Gordon the pace-car driver. Instead, he came out of retirement to replace the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Hendrick Motorsports and finished 13th in his season debut.

Earnhardt was recovering from a concussion last summer and has already announced this will be his final Cup season — marking the third consecutive year one of the series’ biggest names is retiring. Tony Stewart retired after last season.

Gordon has started all 23 races at the Brickyard and will now lead the field to the green flag July 23 in a supercharged, 10-speed automatic Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that goes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

“Jeff Gordon is one of the greatest drivers to ever compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and we’re honored to welcome him back,” IMS President Doug Boles said. “It’s only fitting Jeff will be out front and leading, a place where the fans of this great race are accustomed to seeing him.”

In 23 Cup seasons, Gordon won four championships and 93 races — third all-time. He has spent the last two seasons working as a NASCAR analyst for Fox Sports.

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