Relive Jeff Gordon's emotion as he takes home his first and only win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway back in March of 2001.
Hamlin's slip-up collects four-time champ, McMurray, Newman Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live HAMPTON, Ga. -- Jeff Gordon's first career Sprint Cup Series race came at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992. The then-21-year-old rookie finished 31st after a loose No. 24 Chevrolet eventually found its way into the wall, taking on too much damage to complete more than 164 laps. That race was still better than how the veteran Hendrick Motorsports driver fared in Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, his final race at the 1.54-mile speedway. A spin from Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin on Lap 257 triggered a wreck that collected another three cars, with Gordon's Chevy SS taking the brunt of the damage after it was sent careening into the outside wall and then a non-SAFER barrier-protected segment of the inside wall. “I saw the No. 11 (of Hamlin) going sideways. I had him cleared. I stood on the gas and went by him; but I guess he might have clipped the No. 1 (of Jamie McMurray) and it turned the No. 1 back into me," said Gordon , who wound up 41st. "After that I was just along for the ride. It looks like maybe the No. 31 (of Ryan Newman) came down in trying to avoid the No. 11 and got into the No. 1 and then he clipped me in the left rear and sent me down the back straightaway." Of the four that took damage, only Newman's car was salvageable. The RCR driver managed to use a separate late-race wreck to get back into the fold and squeeze his way toward the front for a 10th-place finish. Hamlin and McMurray weren't as lucky, as the pair finished 38th and 40th, respectively. McMurray had a front row seat for what sparked the wreck but wasn't quite sure what happened at first. After seeing video of the event, it seemed pretty clear to him. “So, the No. 11 just got loose," McMurray said. "It’s pretty hard to pass and you run wide-open so long that you take what you can get when you can get it. And the restarts are the best place to pass on the track; especially if you’re on the bottom. That’s a pretty big advantage here. You’re just racing as hard as you can and unfortunately we just had an accident there." The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished 27th at Daytona and currently stands 32nd in points after two races. While McMurray appears to think Hamlin got loose by taking a gamble, it's possible that the new technical package had a significant hand in it. The rear spoiler has been lowered from eight to six inches, decreasing the rear downforce of the car. This wreck could have just been a matter of Hamlin not having enough handle in the back of his No. 11, along with a slick race track. "I apologize to all those cars involved," Hamlin said. "It's tough. We had a good FedEx Ground Toyota for most of the day, we just lost the handle there … kind of put us in a spot we hadn’t restarted all day and just got a little loose." Out of all the cars involved, though, it affects Gordon the most. Not only is it not the finish he wanted at a track that holds such an important piece of his career, the unfortunate showing puts him in a 72-point hole to start his final season after a 33rd-place finish in the Daytona 500. "I hate it for this team. We were struggling," Gordon said. "We didn’t have the 3M Chevrolet that I thought we were going to have, but we weren’t giving up on it. We were going to make gains and we finally got ourselves in the top 10 and I think we had a shot of getting into the top five. But obviously it's not the way we want to start our season. "We just have to dig ourselves out of this hole." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Three-time Daytona 500 champ got caught up in last-lap wreck, finished 33rd SHOP: Buy Daytona 500 gear RELATED: Get full race results " Series standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jeff Gordon's streak of consecutive Daytona 500 starts reached its conclusion here Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, one final charge in the Great American Race that ended with a crash on the backstretch during a green-white-checkered finish. Gordon , a three-time winner of the race, dominated the first half of the 57th running of the event, leading more than 75 of the first 100 laps and 87 in all here on a sun-drenched day. But the multi-car incident relegated the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to a 33rd-place finish, his worst since a 40th-place run in 2012. "I'm not going to miss those final laps," Gordon told members of the media on pit road afterward. "That was just crazy, but (I) certainly would have liked to have had a shot to win. "If you are over there in Victory Lane it is awesome and you enjoy it. If you are not in Victory Lane, you are like, 'oh gosh, when is that next restrictor-plate race?'" Gordon , who will turn over his well-known No. 24 to youngster Chase Elliott in 2016 to focus on other matters, is scheduled to make just three more starts on the plate tracks. The good news is that 32 others remain where the horsepower-robbing plates aren't a factor. In a race that was won for the first time by Team Penske's Joey Logano, Gordon rallied from lost track position to pull within striking distance in the final 10 laps. But the unusual nature of racing at Daytona, where 200-mph packs of cars often edge forward or drift back depending on the draft, found Gordon 13th when the field roared across the start/finish line with the white flag in the air. On the backstretch, contact with Austin Dillon sent his car spinning, and six others were caught up in the melee. "The bottom line was not as organized and then we stacked them in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2," Gordon said. "The outside line formed and (I) got a little bit of a run. At that point everybody is just trying to shuffle and take (his or her) momentum and do something with it. Hooked up with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, Gordon had begun to muscle his way forward. Getting the lead seemed unlikely, but a top-five wasn't out of the question. "Then they started wrecking, or somebody hit me, I don't know," he said. Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson said the outside lane "got kind of squirrelly and got into me. "And then the guy behind me just turned me sideways," he said. "It's nobody's fault. We were just racing hard." The crash brought out the yellow flag, sealing Logano's win, with defending series champion Kevin Harvick second and defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. third. Over in the garage, Gordon's crew had begun the task of loading the damaged entry back into the transporter for the trip home to its shop in Concord, North Carolina. Fans milled about, shouting the occasional words of encouragement. "Win at Atlanta (next week's stop), please 24," one shouted to the team. Meanwhile, Gordon soaked it all in, a final Daytona 500 come to an end. "It is disappointing, because things were going so well," he said, "especially that first half. That first half was amazing. I was enjoying that moment very, very much – just being out front, being in control of the race. I felt like we were just doing everything perfectly. "That one restart I chose the outside (lane) and that line just didn't go. From that point on, we were just playing catch-up." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Atlanta Motor Speedway gives Jeff Gordon's kids Ella and Leo Gordon a new car in honor of Jeff's career.
Jeff Gordon talks about not being able to make to make a qualifying run at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Jeff Gordon holds off Jimmie Johnson to win a great battle at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2011.
Jeff Gordon talks about making the most of his final full NASCAR season and trying to end 2015 with a championship.
Teammate Johnson joins Gordon on the front row
From the feathers to the wins, driver has left lasting impression Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A young Jeff Gordon preferred to let his No. 24 car do the talking for him. Consequently, he didn't have to tell his '90s crew when he was ready to take the checkered. Instead, the crew interpreted the two simple signs. First, Gordon would grow quiet on the radio, fading to eventual silence. The iconic No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet whirled around the track, providing plenty of nonverbal commentary with its vibrant, rainbow-colored exterior. And when Gordon passed by his pit box seconds later, one final action let his crew know it was winning time. “The story was, he had the feathers on his helmet, and when he would get really focused, he would lean over and you could see the feathers through the window net,” No. 5/24 Team Manager Brian Whitesell recalled. “And you knew he was getting serious. So you would always joke about ‘OK, we’re seeing the feathers, it’s about to get on now.’” Gordon ’s competitive nature and intensity in the car are two of the many qualities that Whitesell and other Hendrick Motorsports shop employees will miss when Gordon retires from full-time competition in 2016. Many No. 5/24 shop employees have called the sprawling campus of Hendrick Motorsports “home” for over 20 years, spending their days laboring Gordon's race cars upon the spotless white floors of the shop. And each of these veterans can recount stories about a young Gordon from a different era of racing. “He’s changed the perception of the sport by his actions and by what he’s done,” Whitesell said while sitting in his office overlooking the No. 5/24 shop of Gordon and teammate Kasey Kahne. “I’m sure there will be stories 10 years from now on what this change manifested and what he’s able to do in his new role.” Whitesell recalls Gordon ’s career with fondness and familiarity -- unsurprising, as he’s been with the No. 24 driver from the very beginning. The young engineer took a job with Hendrick Motorsports back in 1992 as the initial truck driver for the newly minted No. 24 team. Whitesell later served as Gordon ’s engineer and transitory crew chief after Ray Evernham left the team midway through the 1999 Cup season. The pair won two back-to-back races in 1999 -- at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway -- following Evernham's departure. “Knew he was a very special, talented driver,” Whitesell said of his first impression of Gordon . “That’s what we knew. Now where it went from there, no one knew because a lot of talented drivers come in the series and for one reason or another, they don’t make it. “The whole combination of (team owner) Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and it ended up being Ray and Jeff -- the whole thing worked very well and obviously took off.” For the shop workers, co-owner Gordon's similarities to Hendrick help make the No. 24 driver an incredible leader. “He’s like a miniature Rick,” said No. 5/24 Mechanic Darrell McDonald, who took brief break from the shop's Daytona 500 preparations to offer his commentary on Gordon . Moments later, the 24-year shop veteran found the perfect analogy: “… He brings this calm to everybody. He’s the first one to clap; he’s a good motivator. "It’s like when you have a meeting with Rick, when he’s done…man, if I was in the military, we’d be taking over countries.” So when their long-time fearless leader Gordon told his devoted army on Jan. 22 that he wouldn’t be competing full-time after 2016, it was a tough pill to swallow for the shop members. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” said No. 5/24 shop foreman Steve Hlinak, who has been with the team since 1998. “When you see a 24 on the track and they don’t say Jeff Gordon , it’s going to be weird.” Gordon caught Hlinak’s eye even before he joined the Hendrick Motorsports family. He remembers watching Gordon nab his record-setting pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1995 in a fashion that was simply extraordinary. “That’s one of my favorite memories of Jeff in years past,” Hlinak said. “I wasn’t even working on that team and it jacked me up. When he got sideways and got the pole, it was incredible. His dominance at Indy is pretty spectacular.” Gordon ’s supremacy at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is universally celebrated around the shop -- last season, the shop's non-traveling employees even participated in their own brick-kissing ceremony on the floors of the 5/24 shop following Gordon's impressive Brickyard 400 victory. Naturally, it’s also the track where Whitesell immediately pinpoints his favorite memory with the No. 24 driver. “The favorite memory was just that inaugural Brickyard,” Whitesell said, referring to Gordon ’s renowned win in 1994. “It’s just hard to beat that. As we prepared for that race and did everything, it was just so special. And how well he drove that day. The determination of him doing that -- it was a huge accomplishment for him and the team.” Less than a year after that historic Brickyard 400 victory, Gordon was winning races like the shop employees had never seen before and bringing an unfamiliar feeling to the shop; a championship fever. “That was the first championship we ever had,” McDonald said, referring to Gordon ’s first Cup title in 1995. “Before him and Terry (Labonte) came along, we won one race a year. “There are a lot of drivers that can win, but never win a championship. So it was great to see him put the whole year together as a driver and win the championship (in 1995). That’s basically what you’re here for.” • • • While legendary on the track, to these dedicated shop members, Gordon isn’t just a talented driver who has stacked their fingers with championship rings. He is someone they respect and care for both on and off the race track because of his character. “At a very young age, he knew he had a lot of people depending on him," McDonald explained. "This company depended on him to win. And he went out and performed. So I feel like that (first) year showed his maturity at such a young age and then (he) won a championship. “It was a tough era back then … let’s face it, you can only do so much for him as a crew chief, pit crew -- he’s got to drive that race car. Once you put them tires on there and put that thing full of fuel, it’s up to him.” But the task of hoisting the 2015 Sprint Cup trophy at the end of the year is not one that solely rests on Gordon's shoulders -- everyone in the 5/24 shop has a fire lit under their bellies and is ready for battle on the race track. “To me, it inspires us to do even better,” Hlinak said, referring to Gordon ’s announcement. “A last chance to get him that championship here.” “At the end of this year, we just want to say, ‘You know what? We’ve done all we can do.” McDonald said. “…That’s all we want to do right now -- we’re not even thinking about when he’s done. We’ve got this year to race. We’re not done yet.” And after watching him race last season, they know that Gordon will do all he can to make that #DriveforFive championship dream a reality. “I think my favorite season was last year actually,” Hlinak said. “He showed his youthfulness now. We talked about showing his maturity back then, but now he’s showing his personality and his feelings. He’s still scrappy and youthful. He can get it done.” “Little of a redneck side last year,” McDonald added. “Yeah…” Hlinak said with a slight smile and a wink. “Everyone in this building has got his back.” But after the 2015 season is in the books, don’t use the r-word in regards to Gordon around these veteran shop members. Because to them, he’ll still be just as big a part of the Hendrick Motorsports team. “He’s not going to live in a some trailer park, living in a retirement home down in Florida,” McDonald said. “He’s not retiring, he’s just changing obligations.” "Changing obligations" will put Gordon in a managerial role of Hendrick Motorsports. In this facet, he'll still be heavily involved with the organization, closely supervising his replacement in the No. 24 car: Chase Elliott. "I see a lot of Jeff (in Elliott), I really do," McDonald said. "But I think Jeff ’s going to be good for him because he’s going to let him know that he’s got to be Chase. He can’t be Jeff Gordon . He may be better than Jeff . He may win a lot of races, may win a lot of championships, we still don’t know yet. But Jeff will tell him to be him -- ‘Don’t worry about my stuff, you just go out there and do what you’re supposed to do.’" • • • After a few more minutes of conversation, these shop employees are back to work on the floor, immediately busying themselves with Daytona 500 preparations. With a championship to win and a new driver sitting in the wings, breaks are few and far between around here. But it's that devoted mindset that has made them so successful in the past and will keep them whistling and working inside the gray and white walls of the championship-winning shop for years and years to come. “I’m looking for my second (Rolex) watch,” said McDonald with a grin, referring to the gift Hendrick gives to employees on their 20-year anniversaries. “I’m hoping it’s the gold.” FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
No. 48 driver tells story of how instrumental Gordon was in his early career Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As Jimmie Johnson continues his pursuit of a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, teammate Jeff Gordon renews his own pursuit for a fifth championship. The biggest difference, outside the career totals, is that Johnson, at 39, has time on his side. Gordon , at 43, does not. But not because of his age, as his highly competitive 2014 effort proved. While his career could be extended by several years, Gordon announced last month that that would not be the case. The 2015 season will be his last. MORE: Full coverage of Gordon's final full-time season "I look at my own arc in life and in motorsports," Johnson said Thursday during the annual NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway, "and the fact that he gave me my chance, created a team for me to go racing, and then what has happened from there. "You won't see another competitor out there singing his praises, I think, like me." Before Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick offered Gordon a piece of a new Sprint Cup team that would debut in 2001, there was no No. 48 team at HMS. Johnson, a former off-road racer, was a level below Sprint Cup, looking for a break. Gordon , already a three-time champion, was a fellow racer from the west coast, one of the first to successfully make the crossover from open wheel sprints to the heavier stock cars. He might not have known who Johnson was, but Johnson surely knew of Gordon's exploits. "I doubt he'll remember and we never had a chance to formally meet," Johnson said, but at test sessions, I guess in '99 and even in 2000 when he was running some (XFINITY) stuff … every now and then the 24 car would be there and I would always try to linger by his pit and try to introduce myself to him, and it never worked out." Eventually, Johnson said he took matter into his own hands. His team at the time, owned by William Herzog, was exiting the series and he needed career advice. RELATED: Johnson reflects on Chase format a year later At Michigan in the summer of 2000, he got more than that. "The only opportunities I had involved switching manufacturers … and I knew Jeff left Bill Davis and Ford and went to Rick Hendrick and Chevy and I thought he had like the magic answer, so I introduced myself at the drivers' meeting, asked him for a few minutes of time," Johnson said. "He brought me back to the transporter, we talked briefly before the start of the race, and after I told him my situation, he gave me some advice, and then said, 'you're not going to believe this, but we're talking about starting a fourth team, and your name is the only name that's been brought up.' "So just in a 30‑minute window of time, what all went on, starting out trying to work up the nerve to introduce myself to him, looking for some advice, and then practically leaving with the job was just insane. It was the wildest 30 minutes of my life." But it's not only the impact on his own career, Johnson said, that stands out. Gordon opened the door for NASCAR on a number of levels on and off the race track. RELATED: Find out how Kahne learned of Gordon's decision "I think now since we know it's his final year, we're all looking back and having some 'aha' moments,” Johnson said. "He really was instrumental, in my opinion, in helping car owners and sponsors realize that there are drivers far and wide that can come in and be competitive, and he opened the door for (Tony) Stewart, and Stewart opened the door further for myself and Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse. Now we have more drivers from the state of California than any other state; it's wild to think in NASCAR that that's the case, and I think Jeff is responsible for that trend happening. "You look at when Jeff and Dale Earnhardt and their competitive nature in our sport, kind of falling into mainstream media at that point -- we needed a clean‑cut, well‑spoken person to kind of carry the sport. Jeff was that guy. His dominance helped our sport." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule