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.
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
Vince Vaughn catches Jeff Gordon in a private moment before the DAYTONA 500.
Three-time DAYTONA 500 Champion Jeff Gordon looks back on his storied career at Daytona International Speedway.
Modest big-league debut launched four-time champion's transcendent career
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
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
Another dominant day for Hendrick Motorsports Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Buy Daytona 500 gear DAYTONA 500 PRACTICE 6 " Full results Jeff Gordon led the way in Friday's opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Daytona International Speedway, an 85-minute session in which 14 cars took the track following Thursday night's Daytona Duels. In his No. 24 Chevrolet, Gordon's top speed of 193.079 mph was enough to top Michael Waltrip, who finished second at 192.485 mph in his No. 55 Toyota. RELATED: Daytona 500 Social Media Central Comprising the rest of the top five, in order, were Martin Truex Jr. (192.345 mph), Brad Keselowski (192.279 mph) and Joey Logano (192.258 mph). Sprint Unlimited winner Matt Kenseth came in seventh at 191.951 mph. Click the link above to get the full results Several notable drivers stayed off the track in the opening session, including Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick -- who argued on pit road last night following an on-track incident -- plus Daytona Duel winners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. DAYTONA 500 PRACTICE 7 " Full results It was another sweep of sorts for Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led Friday's second practice session with a speed of 194.405 mph, following in teammate Jeff Gordon's footsteps after Gordon led the day's opening practice at Daytona International Speedway. That sweep comes one day after Junior and Jimmie Johnson swept the Daytona Duels, and nearly a week after Gordon and Johnson finished 1-2 in Coors Light Pole Qualifying for Sunday's Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX). Kasey Kahne got into the action, too, on Friday and finished second in the day's final Sprint Cup practice with a speed of 193.528 mph. Johnson was behind him in third (193.096 mph), followed Danica Patrick (192.810 mph) and Ryan Blaney (192.781 mph). Gordon was among the drivers to not go out for practice. It was a nice recovery from Patrick, who completed just three laps before steering her No. 10 Chevrolet to the garage after it began smoking. There was a brief caution period for crews to clean the fluid her car had dropped. She went back on track and improved her best speed. All told, 25 cars hit the track in the 85-minute afternoon session. Click the link above to get the full results. Final practice is scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET with coverage on FOX Sports 1. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule