By Larry Fine
NEW YORK, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Navigating the high-stress, white-knuckle test of the Daytona 500 will not be missed by Jeff Gordon, who nonetheless relishes the chance to launch his farewell NASCAR season with another Speedway triumph.
The four-time NASCAR series champion and three-time Daytona winner has said this will be his final full-time season on the premier stock car circuit and last Daytona 500.
"Spectators need to understand how white-knuckle an experience it is, how mentally draining and how not fun it is," Gordon told Reuters earlier this month while in New York to promote dental care for underserved children.
"I would rather watch those races than participate in them."
That is, after this year's run.
Nothing would please him more than stepping away as a winner, and he put himself in prime position by claiming the pole position for Sunday's race.
"All I want to focus on is winning the Daytona 500," he said about the 57th edition of The Great American Race.
Gordon, one of NASCAR's most popular drivers, said his decision to step away was based on several factors including lingering back issues, who would take over his car and spending more time with his wife and children.
"That was really a two-year process trying to figure all that out," said Gordon.
He expects to keep busy even without the grind of full-time driving given his roles as an equity partner in Hendricks Motorsports, head of his Children's Foundation and in support of the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital in North Carolina.
His involvement with children's health issues goes back to early in his career when he would visit a children's hospital to cheer up patients.
"When I went, I realized these families and these kids are going through so much that just breaking up the monotony of that ... can get their mind off of what's going to happen the next time a doctor walks through that door," he said.
"(Then) my crew chief having a son diagnosed with leukemia led to us starting our own program, Racing for a Reason, and that led to me starting my own foundation."
Gordon said his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, predicted he could have a special farewell season.
"He told me: 'I love it. You're going to have a unique mindset that you've probably never had before.'
"He's right. It's kind of all or nothing for me. I got one last chance. I can take chances."
Gordon said he can feel the difference.
"I'm way less stressed than I've been in the past," said Gordon, whose 92 wins rank third on the all-time NASCAR list behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).
"Now, that's going to intensify a little bit in the race. That's just me and my nature. But still there's just something about it where if you don't win, oh, well, it's not the end of the world.
"But, boy, if you can win it, what a storybook type of beginning to the season it would be." (Editing by Frank Pingue)