Justin Allgaier talks about finishing third in the Dollar General 200 Fueled By AmeriGas and how this is his strongest start of any season.
RELATED: Full race results " Final standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- To go fast, all Kyle Busch had to do was mash the gas pedal. To go faster, all he had to do was slow down. Had to slow down. No choice there. Busch "got in a fight" with an unprotected, concrete wall at Daytona before the season's first Sprint Cup Series race. He lost. Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway , he won. The road to the Sprint Cup title is a curious one. They say the 30-year-old Busch is a "changed" man -- actually, the word often used is "matured" -- and I hope that's only partly true. It's the competitive fire in Busch that pushes him to dance with a race car on the very edge. Occasionally, the results are disastrous; often, though, they are a thing of beauty. Busch didn't compete in all 36 points races this season, but for reasons out of his control. A broken right leg and a left foot that gave new meaning to the word "fractured" took care of that. For nearly 12 weeks, Busch idled. Idle is not a speed to which the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is accustomed. One doesn't win 154 races across three series by idling. A bed-ridden Busch had to sit and watch as three other drivers climbed into his No. 18 Toyota. It's been said that nothing hurts a racer more than seeing someone else in his car. Rehab was painful; sitting on the sidelines was agonizing. Potential wins were slipping by him on the television screen. When he finally did make it back to the track, no one knew what to expect, least of all Busch. Sure, he was confident. His crew chief, Adam Stevens, and car owner, Joe Gibbs, were confident. But no one was certain. No one knew if a broken leg and fractured foot were the only real injuries Busch suffered in Daytona several months earlier. Maybe the "want to" was still there, but the question was, could he? Could he still feel every nuance of the car as it rocketed around a race track? Could he push it to the very edge, find the sliver of an opening that existed only briefly, and charge his way through the field? Not only could Busch still do those things, but in some ways he did them better. Only six weeks after his return, Busch was back in the winner's circle, victorious at, of all places, Sonoma Raceway. In little more than a month's time, he won three consecutive races and four of five. Nearly as telling was his performance in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . The format, tweaked from time to time, has always dealt hefty penalties for miscues with little or no time to recover, and Busch has had his share. This time, he navigated the minefield that stretched from Chicago to Homestead with minimal damage. If Busch has changed, so has his approach, something he called a "just let everything be" tactic. It's a short phrase that speaks volumes about his confidence in himself and his team. Changed? Maybe. Maybe hitting a concrete wall and starting a family and sitting on the sidelines had an effect on him after all. Slowing down wasn't a part of the plan. But in the end, that's what it took. And Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, is just fine with that.
RELATED: Learn more about Champion's Week DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 24, 2015) – The celebration will continue after the trophy is lifted at Homestead-Miami Speedway as NASCAR ® presents the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards™ hosted by actor and comedian Drew Carey. Live from Wynn Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 4, fans can tune-in to coverage of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards™ beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. NBCSN will also begin coverage at 8 p.m. ET from the red carpet, followed by the awards broadcast at 9 p.m. ET. This year's show will also feature a lineup of performances from award-winning musical artists Andy Grammer, Sam Hunt, Rachel Platten, and Sabrina Carpenter. As the current host of The Price is Right and former host of Who's Line is it Anyway? , Drew Carey will bring a seasoned air of entertainment and comedy to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards stage. Best known for his self-portrayal on The Drew Carey Show , which garnered seven Emmy nominations, Carey has received numerous accolades throughout his career, including three People’s Choice Awards, an Editor’s Choice TV Guide Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "This has been a tremendous year for NASCAR, and I'm honored to host this headlining event as fans all across the country tune-in to pay homage to the accomplishments of the 2015 champion," said Carey. "I look forward to rounding out the 2015 NASCAR ® racing season with a night of epic proportions alongside some of the greatest names in sports and entertainment." Triple-platinum selling recording artist Andy Grammer will perform at the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards. The pop singer best known for hits such as “Keep Your Head Up” and “Back Home” took America by storm in 2015 with his smash single, "Honey, I'm Good" turning it into one of the year’s catchiest songs. A deluxe edition of his sophomore album, Magazines Or Novels was released on Nov. 20 featuring Andy's brand new single, "Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah.)" The evening's musical lineup will also feature country star Sam Hunt, who took home the honor of New Artist of the Year at Sunday night's American Music Awards. His critically-acclaimed debut album Montevallo has so far produced three consecutive No. 1 platinum-selling singles with "Leave the Night On," "House Party" and the double-platinum "Take Your Time," plus his current platinum-selling Top 15, "Break Up In A Small Town." Rachel Platten, one of this year's breakout artists with her double platinum No. 1 hit single, "Fight Song", will also grace the awards stage. Her current chart-climbing single, "Stand By You" will be released on her highly-anticipated forthcoming album, Wildfire. Rounding out the night's performances will be multi-talented singer / songwriter Sabrina Carpenter, who currently stars on the Disney Channel original series Girl Meets World . Carpenter released her debut album, Eyes Wide Open earlier this year, which features "We'll be the Stars" and its namesake single, "Eyes Wide Open." "The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards marks the pinnacle of our season as we have the opportunity to commend the drivers and teams for all of their hard work and dedication throughout the year," said Zane Stoddard, NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and content development. "With Drew Carey at the wheel and a lineup of performances from some of the most celebrated entertainers in the music industry, it will certainly be a finale to remember for everyone joining us in Las Vegas and the NASCAR fans watching at home." This year's artists will join a star-studded group of actors and musicians who have previously performed at NASCAR’s championship celebration, including Lady Antebellum, Sara Bareilles, Dierks Bentley, and Kid Rock. Part of the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week™ in Las Vegas, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards is the headlining experience in a series of events that also includes the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Fanfest, NASCAR After The Lap™ and NASCAR Victory Lap™, where fans get a front row seat as the 16 Challengers™ roar down Las Vegas Boulevard. Visit www.NASCAR.com/ChampionsWeek to view the full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week schedule.
Lorene King, executive director of the NASCAR Foundation, has done a Q&A with each of the four finalists for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. They will appear on NASCAR.com this week. RELATED: Cast your vote today As another year comes swiftly to a close, we should all take time for reflection. As a charitable organization, we are thankful for those of you whose volunteer service impacts the lives of others and our communities. Volunteerism remains strong with one in four adults volunteering in our country. The NASCAR Foundation has established the encouragement and support of volunteerism as one of our major efforts. Through the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award that honors our founder, Betty Jane France, we annually receive and review hundreds of nominees from which four finalists are selected. The stories of these four outstanding, everyday champions and the charities they serve are told through special appearances at NASCAR races, our marketing efforts and those of our supporters and sponsors. We are blessed this year that Nationwide has joined us as Presenting Sponsor of the Award and is helping us spread the word about each of our finalists and their work for children. This week, we are giving you a more in-depth look at each of this year's finalists. These outstanding volunteers will touch your heart, so please stay tuned as each of these champions for children share their passion. And you can help -- vote for your favorite every day, share these stories through social media, and tune in to the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas at 9 p.m. ET on Dec. 4 (NBCSN), to see the winner of this year's award. Q: What does it mean to you to be among the finalists for the NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award sponsored by Nationwide? A: To be chosen as a finalist and to be recognized for all I have done and given; to do something, helps me emotionally. Though this nomination will not bring my daughter Erin back, it comforts me greatly to be recognized for doing something, so more survive sepsis! Q: How will being selected as a finalist further your cause? A: Just being chosen as a finalist and competing for this year’s award requires educating people about sepsis. Less than 50 percent of Americans have heard the word, "sepsi," yet it is the No. 3 cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of death in most hospitals. Another factor furthering our cause is the exposure from The NASCAR Foundation; by highlighting this as one finalist's cause, millions will be introduced to the word, "sepsis," thus creating needed public awareness. Sepsis kills more children than childhood cancer. No one even knows the total number of people, including children who survive, but who lose limbs or have disabilities sometimes for the rest of their lives. Q: Why did you choose to work with this organization or for this cause? A: I did not choose to work for this cause, it chose me! When we lost Erin to sepsis -- something I had never heard of -- I looked around for answers and support. There were none. There were no advocacy groups, no institutions dealing with this and even most nurses and other healthcare providers did not have any education on sepsis. SO, I did not choose this organization. I started it. Q: What inspires you and your personal commitment to this cause? A: What inspires me has changed since I became involved. We lost Erin in April of 2002 from sepsis. I am now inspired by my Erin, plus all the unnecessary deaths and disabilities in the U.S. and worldwide. I am actually on a task force of the Global Sepsis Alliance that is working with the World Health Organization. Much to do, many to save! Q: What is the most rewarding moment during your work with your charity so far? A: The most rewarding moment is when I get confirmation and appreciation that I did something. Also, when I help someone survive physically or when I can help survivors heal is very rewarding. It is very rewarding and gratifying to know you are helping change the world regarding what may be the No. 1 cause of death on this planet!
RELATED: Gase takes up cause in honor of mother HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Joey Gase was as surprised as he was touched in winning the inaugural Comcast Community Champion Award at Monday night's NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series awards banquet. Gase, 22, was genuinely touched by the big honor -- a tribute to his mother Mary Jo, who died from a brain aneurysm when Gase was only 18 years old. Four people representing NASCAR's three series were among the group nominated for the award -- in addition to Gase it also included Martin Truex Jr . and his girlfriend Sherry Pollex ( Sprint Cup ) and Martha Nemechek (grandmother of Truck series driver John Hunter Nemechek ). Truex and Pollex were nominated for the award for their work with cancer patients and Nemechek was honored for her time helping grieving families -- a nod to the loss of her youngest son John, 27, who died from injuries suffered in a Truck Series race at Homestead, Florida in 1997. Gase was absolutely surprised when his name was announced, but also extremely humbled and grateful to be the selection. "It's amazing," a thankful Gase said. "It's the first time Comcast has done this and not only to honor my mom, but to let people know we're doing everything we can. "I was surprised. I didn't know what to expect for sure." Gase was obviously extremely touched by the award, speaking about what the $60,000 donation from Comcast will mean as he continues his work to increase awareness about organ donation. "It is very sad, but for me and my family. … the one thing that was able to come from it was my mom was able to help 66 people and she would be proud to know that. A lot of people think only of the recipients but it's also the other family members knowing that if it wasn't for my mom their loved one wouldn't be helped." A $30,000 donation was also made to the charitable organizations of Truex and Nemechek. The XFINITY and Truck series banquet will be televised Sunday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Crash that broke his leg and foot, journey back to racing SHOP: Busch gear Nov. 22: Busch wins first Sprint Cup Series championship In a season fit for the silver screen, Kyle Busch completes his emotional comeback from a devastating season-opening injury to capture his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. " Read the full story " Final 2015 standings Nov. 22: Busch wins title with victory at Homestead-Miami Driver Kyle Busch caps an amazing comeback, winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 to hold off fellow Championship 4 contenders Kevin Harvick , Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr . " Read the full story " Complete race results Aug. 9: Busch breaks into top 30 in drivers points standings A runner-up finish at Watkins Glen pushed Kyle Busch into 30th place in the Sprint Cup points standings, a requirement of eligibility for him for the Chase. With four race wins under his belt, he must remain in the top 30 to make the Chase. " Read the full story " Full race results July 11: Kyle Busch wins Sprint Cup race at Kentucky A second win helps Kyle Busch 's chances of cracking the top 30 in points, the second condition he must meet to make the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup . " Read the full story " Full race results June 28: Kyle Busch wins Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Needing victory to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup , Kyle Busch got the victory at Sonoma , a track that had been a concern as he continues to recover because the road course is so physically demanding. " Read the full story " Full race results June 13: Kyle Busch wins XFINITY race at Michigan Kyle Busch goes to Victory Lane in his first race back in the XFINITY Series after breaking his leg and left foot at Daytona. " Read the full story " Full race results May 24: Kyle Busch completes Coca-Cola 600 , finishes 11th Kyle Busch makes his Sprint Cup points race debut for the season in the Coca-Cola 600 , climbing to second place before fuel strategy led to an 11th-place finish. " Read the full story May 18: Kyle, Samantha Busch welcome first baby Driver Kyle Busch and his wife, Samantha, had their first child, a boy, at 9:45 p.m. May 18. Brexton Locke Busch is his name. " Read the full story May 16: Busch finishes sixth in All-Star race After a pleasing top-10 run in his first race back from leg and foot injuries, Kyle Busch looks forward to running in the Coca-Cola 600 " Read the full story May 13: Kyle Busch granted Chase waiver NASCAR has granted Kyle Busch a waiver for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Find out what he has to do to make the Chase. " Read the full story " Official NASCAR release " Cain: Making Chase will cap comeback May 12: Kyle Busch announces return After missing 11 events to open the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season following his injury at Daytona, Kyle Busch has set his return for the Sprint All-Star Race on May 16. " Read the full story " Drivers react to news of Busch's return " Herman Unplugged: Reaction to Busch's return " Busch's return a hot topic at Dover test May 9: Jones' promising run crashes at Kansas Making his first Sprint Cup start filling in for the injured Kyle Busch , Erik Jones was working on a great run at Kansas until he found the wall late in the race. " Read the full story April 16: Accident leads Busch to become unexpected safety advocate NASCAR.com's Holly Cain tells the story of how Kyle Busch 's wreck at Daytona has changed the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into a saftey advocate for the sport. Busch talks about how impressed he was of the breadth and depth of detailed information that has been gathered from his accident. " Read the full story April 16: Busch family bonds, finds strength in recovery With a baby on the way, the Busch family discuss how they've worked as a team to recover from Kyle's injury while prepping to expand their family. The parents-to-be explain that it hasn't been easy, but they're counting their blessings. " Read the full story April 15: Kyle Busch analyzes tape of his wreck Kyle Busch holds his first press conference after his crash at Daytona and uses video to break down his thought process as the wreck unfolded. His doctors are pleased with his progress, but he has no timeline for returning to driving. " Read the full story " Herman Unplugged: Busch should sit out 2015 April 15: Kyle Busch responds to Keselowski blog During his first press conference after his Daytona crash, Kyle Busch also addressed his long-running feud with fellow Sprint Cup driver Brad Keselowski . " Watch the video " More on Keselowski's blog April 15: Kyle Busch , wife discuss crash, impending parenthood In an interview with Charlotte NBC affiliate WCNC, Kyle Busch and his wife Samantha discussed the driver's accident at Daytona in February " Read the full story March 20: Kyle Busch takes next step in recovery Kyle Busch posts a video on Facebook of himself moving around a bit with the aid of a walker, along with encouragement from his wife, Samantha, and their dog. " Read the full story March 17: KBM drivers keep in touch Daniel Suarez says his team owner's advice is invaluable. And Justin Boston reports Busch is 'recovering quickly.' " Read the full story March 14: Kurt Busch hopes brother doesn't rush return Kurt Busch says, 'You can't rush the healing of bones and surgeries.' And teammate Denny Hamlin says Kyle Busch is staying engaged with the No. 18 team despite being sidelined. " Read the full story March 11: Kyle Busch , Samantha, visit KBM Kyle Busch and his wife, Samantha, take a field trip to Kyle Busch Motorsports and tell the team, 'Progress is going well.' " Read the full story March 10: Busch gets walking boots Kyle Busch gets soft casts removed from both legs and moves up to walking boots, which Samantha Busch dubs 'Terminator boots' in a Twitter photo. " Read the full story March 2: Subs announced for No. 54 XFINITY Toyota Denny Hamlin , Erik Jones and Boris Said are tapped as substitute drivers for Kyle Busch in the No. 54 NASCAR XFINITY Series Toyota. "Get Well Kyle" stickers adorn the No. 54. " Read the full story Feb. 27: Kyle Busch heads home after second surgery After a second surgery to treat his injuries, Kyle Busch was in a Charlotte hospital for observation for two days before being cleared to go home. The No. 18 racing team put a "Get well Kyle" on the rear bumper of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for the Atlanta race. " Read the full story Feb. 25: Kyle Busch has successful surgery on left foot Joe Gibbs Racing announces that Kyle Busch underwent a successful surgery on his left foot at a Charlotte hospital. " Read the full story Feb. 24: Kyle Busch leaves Florida hospital Kyle Busch was released from Halifax Health Medical Center. He boarded a plane on a stretcher and was transferred to a North Carolina hospital for further treatment of multiple leg injuries. " Read the full story Feb. 24: David Ragan to sub for Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing announces that David Ragan will sub for the injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota for several weeks, starting at Atlanta Motor Speedway . " Read the full story Feb. 24: ISC working on 'significant plan' for safer barriers In the wake of Kyle Busch 's severe crash and resulting injuries during the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway , International Speedway Corporation announces a plan to expand its use of impact-diffusing barriers at its 12 tracks. " Read the full story Feb. 22: Joe Gibbs says Busch's surgery went well Team owner Joe Gibbs gives an update on Kyle Busch 's status after surgery and says he is 'resting comfortably.' Doctors reported that things went well with surgery on Busch's lower right leg. " Read the full story Feb. 22: Samantha Busch gives update from hospital Samantha Busch posts a selfie with Kyle Busch from his hospital bed on Twitter with a tweet saying, "Getting ready to watch the Daytona 500 ! Cheering on our 18 boys!" " Read the full story Feb. 21: Drivers wish Kyle Busch well after hard hit Kyle Busch is taken to the hospital by ambulance after a big wreck during the XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway . Fellow drivers sent well-wishes via Twitter. " Read the full story Feb. 21: Hard hit sidelines Kyle Busch for Daytona 500 A crash in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race caused NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch to miss the Daytona 500 after suffering injuries to his right leg and left foot a day before the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway . " Read the full story
Miss Sprint Cup Madison Martin wants you to vote for The NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award presented by Nationwide.
RELATED: Panel upholds Kenseth suspension The National Motorsports Appeals Panel today heard and considered the appeal of a Behavioral Penalty issued on Nov. 3 to Matt Kenseth (driver) relative to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series vehicle No. 20 at Martinsville Speedway . The penalty concerns the following sections in the 2015 NASCAR Rule Book: Sections 12.1 and 12.8. The original penalty assessed included suspension from NASCAR until the completion of the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events and placed on NASCAR probation for six months following the issuance of the Penalty Notice. Upon hearing the testimony, the decisions of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel are: 1. The Appellant violated the rules set forth in the Penalty notice; 2. The Panel affirms and upholds the original Penalty levied by NASCAR. The panel consisted of the following three individuals: Mr. Ken Clapp Mr. Bill Mullis Mr. Dale Pinilis The Appellant has chosen to appeal the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer in accordance with Section 15 of the NASCAR Rule Book. The appeal will begin at 1 p.m. ET.
RELATED: Champion's Week sweepstakes In just four short weeks, the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Eight drivers, representing five different teams and all three manufacturers, are competing to etch their name in the NASCAR history books, with the designation as champion. Once the new champion hoists the Sprint Cup trophy over his head, closing yet another exciting Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , the industry will collectively set its sights on Las Vegas, and the week-long celebration of the season titled Champion's Week. During the first week of December, the NASCAR industry will converge on Las Vegas for the seventh consecutive year. This year, all 16 Chase drivers will be in attendance to celebrate the 2016 Champion, with an array of live fan events, appearances and banquets. Possibly the most iconic moment during Champion’s Week is Victory Lap fueled by Sunoco, when the drivers parade down Las Vegas Boulevard in their race cars. Fans have the opportunity to experience the excitement of NASCAR with two burnout sessions and viewing areas along the route. For the first time, NASCAR Victory Lap will have a title sponsor, a brand familiar to all NASCAR fans due to its crucial role in the sport, Sunoco. "We are very excited to be fueling this year's NASCAR Victory Lap. This tremendous event has been a fan favorite, as well as a favorite of ours. We are proud to be part of bringing the celebration back to the streets of Las Vegas," said Drew Kabakoff, Director Brand Marketing, Sunoco. "After this year's launch of Burnt Rubbèr, the most exclusive fragrance in motorsports, we felt it only made sense to cap the year off with NASCAR's top drivers burning some rubber of their own on Las Vegas Boulevard." Fans have turned this into one of the most anticipated moments of Champion's Week. So to thank them, Sunoco is offering one lucky fan and their guest the opportunity to win a trip to Las Vegas for a VIP experience during NASCAR Victory Lap fueled by Sunoco. The grand prize includes hotel, airfare and an exclusive opportunity to experience the Essence of Racing by joining the field of 16 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Challengers as they drive the Las Vegas Strip. In addition, Sunoco is giving away hundreds of bottles of Burnt Rubbèr to daily winners. Fans can enter at www.essenceofracing.com for a chance to win. "We thought this would be a great way to bring our fans closer to the action and raise the level of excitement around this year's event," said Kabakoff. Just like the field of race cars competing on the track each weekend, NASCAR Victory Lap will be fueled by Sunoco.
MORE: Sunday's full lineup RELATED: Gordon's top 24 NASCAR moments " Full Gordon coverage HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Busy week, surrounded by a lot of friends and family, a legendary figure making the final start of his career with a shot at going out as a five-time champion. Racer. Philanthropist. Father. What's there to say about Jeff Gordon that hasn't been said? What's there to write that hasn't been written? Do a Google search for " Jeff Gordon " and the search engine generates approximately 79 million results. Tom Brady? 83.1 million. Kobe Bryant? 34.6 million. Derek Jeter? 14 million. Gordon, 44, is one of those rare athletes who have transcended their individual sport. A champion on the track? Without question. Off the track? Certainly. Television and tabloids flock to him. He purchased a second residence in New York City in part to escape the spotlight and to navigate life in between races unimpeded by the fame that followed him elsewhere. Maybe he would not carry the same clout or create the same buzz had he chosen another profession. Then again, perhaps his impact would have been even greater elsewhere. A precocious, driven youngster whose family packed up moved east from California in order to continue his development as a racer. A NASCAR premier series champion at 24. And 26. And 27. And 30. Now, at 44, is there one more title in the tank? What's there to say that hasn't been said, write that hasn't been written? WATCH: Gordon's first Homestead win The Alpha and Omega NASCAR didn't begin with Gordon, and it certainly won't end when the Hendrick Motorsports driver climbs from his No. 24 Chevrolet for the final time on Sunday evening. "Everybody's career comes to an end," Richard Petty said. "He's going out strong. I admire him for that part of it. "I wouldn't mind seeing him win the championship because he's meant so much to NASCAR over the years. They're going to miss him a whole lot from that standpoint." There is no one in the sport more qualified to speak on such matters than the man known simply as "The King." Now 78, Petty set the standard for champions on the track as well as how to conduct oneself outside the car. Icon, inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame member, winner of 200 races and seven championships, Petty is NASCAR. The Petty family is NASCAR. Petty's father, Lee, won three titles, 54 races and was in the very first sanctioned race. He, too, is a member of the Hall of Fame. The careers of Richard Petty and Gordon are inextricably linked by a single date – Nov. 15, 1992. Petty made his 1,184th and final start in NASCAR's premier series. Gordon made his very first in the same event. Petty met privately with Gordon this weekend at Homestead to present him with one of his signature Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hats. It was a gesture of appreciation and acknowledgement of everything Gordon has accomplished. But Petty understands better than most that the sport will move forward, just as it did when he stepped out of the car that sunny day in Atlanta. "No matter who you are, you're not strong enough to carry the whole load," Petty said. "He's been a strong leader all these years, but over a period of time, the next crowd comes along and kind of fades them all out. Over a period of time, you go away whether you want to or not." RELATED: Best No. 24 paint schemes Auspicious beginning Gordon won the series' Rookie of the Year title in 1993, competing for the honor against Bobby Labonte , Kenny Wallace and P.J. Jones. Two years later, he won his first championship. It was the era of Dale Earnhardt, the six-time champion chasing Petty's mark of seven titles while blazing new trails. He was "The Intimidator." He was NASCAR. Petty, Earnhardt and then there was Gordon. No one else was as dominant -- between 1995 and '99, Gordon won 47 races. He won Daytona. He won Indy. He won the Winston Million. Had he not come along? "Someone else would have taken that spot," Mike Helton, NASCAR Vice Chairman, said. "I don't know that anybody could have filled it, though. "There's a difference. It's like if the Atlantic Ocean went dry, somebody could figure out how to get water in it, but could they fill that whole ocean? "I think we were very fortunate for Jeff to appear when he did and do what he did along the way to keep our momentum going. It certainly added to the momentum that we had going in that era. We needed a Jeff Gordon and he arose. He came into the sport ... he could have chosen open-wheel racing ... and he would have been massively successful." Why was it Gordon? Why not someone else who stepped up and helped carry the sport forward, who resonated with fans and sponsors? Helton doesn't know. "I know growing up there was a reason I became a big fan of John Wayne. And there were a lot of cowboys on television," he said. "I just think that speaks to Jeff's inclusiveness, and his capabilities extended beyond just being a very successful athlete as a race car driver." There have been issues from time to time, but nothing major, according to Helton, who added, "Of course we've had conversations in which he'd had to write checks afterward." Earnhardt's death in 2001, in the season-opening Daytona 500 , turned the sport upside down. Gordon was one of the few who could help stabilize it in an uncertain time. "I think the whole industry looked at Jeff to take Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s place when we lost Dale," said Helton. "The garage area needed a voice like we've had historically, whether it was Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip, Dale Sr. ... He got pressure from the industry inside the garage to be that voice. "When that came, along with the championships that preceded that, he understood the need for a league or sanctioning body in order for the athlete to be successful. But he also had a good soapbox to stand on saying 'Look, we need our voice to be heard too.' And I think the respect worked both ways." RELATED: NASCAR Nation honors Gordon with #24ever 'Iron Man' of NASCAR Consecutive starts: 796. It's one more impressive record in Jeff Gordon 's body of work. He's never missed a start, and passed Ricky Rudd for the consecutive starts record earlier this year. Now, only one remains, one final attempt, one final opportunity. Because of the format for NASCAR's championship-determining Chase, Gordon doesn't have to win Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 . He has to finish ahead of only three challengers -- Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ) to capture the title. He'll go out a winner regardless of where he finishes. Whether or not he goes out a champion has yet to be determined. Capturing the inaugural Brickyard 400 in '94 has always stood out as his most memorable moment. Until a recent Martinsville victory put him in the Championship 4 here at Homestead-Miami Speedway . The '98 season when he won 13 races, the fourth title in '01 with crew chief Robby Loomis after the departure of mentor Ray Evernham and the '95 crown that was won when he "was going against Earnhardt; that was huge," Gordon said earlier this week. The finality of the moment, though, carries much weight. "My final year, my final race, (wife) Ingrid and the kids," Gordon said. "Kids motivate you in a whole new way, and no matter what we're going to go out and be happy and celebrate. "But to do it as a champion, oh, my gosh, I just can't imagine anything that would be more emotional and more exciting and more gratifying than to look at my wife in the eyes and see that reaction from her when that race is over if we win it." MORE: Drivers offer favorite Gordon memories