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
Atlanta Motor Speedway gives Jeff Gordon's kids Ella and Leo Gordon a new car in honor of Jeff's career.
Jeff Gordon holds off Jimmie Johnson to win a great battle at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2011.
Jeff Gordon talks about not being able to make to make a qualifying run at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
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
Gordon on Great American Race: 'You feel that you are part of a very special event' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: See the full starting lineup DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For the 23rd time in his career, Jeff Gordon will suit up and slide behind the wheel Sunday, fire the engine of the No. 24 Chevrolet and roll off pit road to start the Daytona 500. He'll be first in line, having won the Coors Light Pole position for the season-opening race a week earlier, edging teammate Jimmie Johnson (second) for the top spot. His expectation is to be in the same position when the checkered flag appears sometime late Sunday afternoon. Gordon , 43, is making his final start in season’s biggest race. Big stage, big names and big dreams. RELATED: Full coverage with Race Center A four-time premier series champion, Gordon is experienced and comfortable under pressure. And few races are as pressure-packed as the Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX), where victories often cement legendary status for those that triumph. You might not be a nobody if your career ends without a Daytona 500 victory, but win one and you're suddenly a somebody. His first Daytona 500 start, in 1993, resulted in a fifth-place finish, an impressive debut for a 21-year-old kid making his second career start in NASCAR's premier series. Last season, Gordon finished fourth. In between, there has been plenty of success and just as much heartbreak for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. It's a race in which he has never finished second. In the Daytona 500, there's first, and then everyone else. "I just remember kind of an ah‑ha moment where I was running maybe third, I think Dale (Earnhardt) was leading, maybe I was even second. Dale Jarrett was in that mix too, and there was a group of like five us that had separated ourselves from the rest of the field," Gordon said of his 1993 debut. "… And just going, 'Oh my God, what am I doing here? This is the Daytona 500, my first one, and I'm right in the mix of this thing. How cool is this?' " The wins would come -- the first in 1997 made him at the time the youngest winner of the race, a mark that's since been eclipsed. In that race, Gordon streaked underneath Bill Elliott with six laps remaining for the final lead change. "The yellow line (under which passing will draw a penalty) didn't exist (then)," he said. "I think it existed the next year after that." Gordon won again in 1999, beating Earnhardt no less, and a third time in 2005 after a furious shootout with Earnhardt Jr. and eventual runner-up Kurt Busch. Only Richard Petty (seven) and Cale Yarborough (four) have won the race more often; Bobby Allison and Jarrett are also three-time winners of the 500. "When you look at what he's done here … Jeff Gordon is going to be looked at as a great driver no matter what," said Ray Evernham, Gordon's crew chief in two of those Daytona 500 victories. "No matter which column you look down, whether it's wins, whether it's finishes, whether it's championships, whatever it is you look down that column and his name is going to be near the top. "Ultimately, the great drivers have won the Daytona 500 and when you've won it (multiple) times …" Although 12 of his 92 career wins have come on restrictor-plate tracks (six at Daytona and six at Talladega Superspeedway), the two venues are among Gordon's worst in terms of average finishing position (16.2 and 17.0 respectively). His average finishing position in the Daytona 500 is 17.8. Averages aren't on his mind, however, as he prepares to embark upon his final season as a full-time racer. Checkered flags are. And none provide a bigger thrill than the one that will be waving tomorrow afternoon. "Whether you like restrictor-plate racing or not, you want to win this race," Gordon said. "You are excited to just be a part of it and be in the race. "When I describe it to other people that have maybe never been, I always say to them there is just nothing like race day for the Daytona 500. You just feel the energy. You feel a little bit more anxiousness and nerves as a competitor. "But you feel that you are part of a very special event and you are getting that energy from the fans, from the media, from your team, from everybody. There is just something different about it and it is just really hard to describe what creates that other than it's the Great American race." 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
Vince Vaughn catches Jeff Gordon in a private moment before the DAYTONA 500.
Relive Jeff Gordon ’s third triumph in The Great American Race as he holds off a field of hard chargers to the finish.
Watch a quick highlight of Jeff Gordon holding off Dale Earnhardt Sr. to claim his second DAYTONA 500 victory.
Three-time DAYTONA 500 Champion Jeff Gordon looks back on his storied career at Daytona International Speedway.