The classic NASCAR film "Days of Thunder" was loosely based on the career of 13-time premier series victor Tim Richmond, who had earned the nickname "Hollywood." Given his comfort in the spotlight over the course of the past two decades, perhaps the nickname would also suit Jeff Gordon , who retired from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition after falling just short in his bid for a historic fifth title on Sunday. Born a California boy, it was clear from the start of his career that Gordon was cut from a different cloth than the good ol' boys who had ruled NASCAR throughout its storied history. He was polished. He was refined. He was -- eventually, once mustache met razor -- well-groomed. And people took notice. Before long there were endorsements, seemingly more Gordon memorabilia lining the shelves than shelves themselves and, oh yeah, four titles in his first nine seasons, solidifying a Hall of Fame resume before he even hit age 30. And Gordon's influence on the actual racing part of the sport will be everlasting. Take a look at the final Sprint Cup standings . There are only two drivers in the top 25 who originally hail from North Carolina ( Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Austin Dillon ), NASCAR's original talent pool hot bed. Many factors led to this, but Gordon's All-American appeal, charm and charisma helped pave the way -- even while playing the foil to Dale Earnhardt -- opening up NASCAR to a mainstream audience, flooding stands and couches in front of non-flat-screened TV sets with an audience that stretched from coast to coast, border to border. An audience that tuned in to see Gordon become the first -- and to date, only -- race car driver host one of America's most notable television programs, NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Jeff Gordon 's monologue from a 2003 episode of NBC's "Saturday Night Live." "I asked (Gordon) recently, a while back, about what made you go on 'Saturday Night Live,' what made you want to do that," NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "Number 1, he said, 'Well, they asked me.' And I said, 'Well, OK.' But he said, 'Look, I felt comfortable doing a lot of things that were not mainstream for a NASCAR driver.' "And he was smart about it. He knew that that could separate him from other drivers and he was good at it." Gordon's SNL appearance on Jan. 11, 2003, was a tipping point of bringing NASCAR to the masses, an unquestionable testament to the Hendrick Motorsports driver's popularity and wide-ranging allure. Gordon got to "beat up" a fake Gary Busey while hosting "SNL." It's the crowning achievement in Gordon's on-screen roles, a list that includes 27 appearances on "Live!" (with Regis/Kathie Lee/Kelly/Michael), including 11 guest hosting gigs. He's also appeared in "Spin City", "Arli$$", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", "The Drew Carey Show", "Looney Tunes: Back in Action", "Taxi", "Herbie Fully Loaded", "Sesame Street", "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", "Top Gear", "The Simpsons", "Jeopardy" and even "Cars 2" -- as the appropriately named character " Jeff Gorvette." That curriculum vitae alone -- which is pared down; check out his entire IMDb page -- shows Gordon's star power across generations of fans and television watchers. Gordon also got to play a fighter pilot. Ultimately, with Gordon walking away on such a high note from the sport he's gotten so much out of, NASCAR has reaped the benefits of his contributions. Millions of NASCAR fans can thank Jeff Gordon for opening their eyes to the sport. "He's one of those guys, I always look back at drivers that take out a lot less than they put in," France said. "He's one of those guys that has put in a lot to grow the sport. And other drivers should think about that a little bit. Because he's really a model in that respect. "I have a lot of respect for Jeff Gordon ."
RELATED: Full coverage of Gordon's last ride Jeff Gordon 's last ride resulted in a sixth-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway and he finished third in the final standings for 2015. Here is a look at where the legendary driver stacks up all time.
Watch a condensed version of the Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, which concluded the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and was the final race of Jeff Gordon’s historic career.
GarageCam host Matthew Dillner gives you behind the scenes access to not only the NASCAR XFINITY Series but also the Camping World Truck Series in this edition of NXS GarageCam.
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
As Jeff Gordon 's full-time Sprint Cup Series career comes to a close on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway , tributes have been pouring in for the Hendrick Motorsports driver via #24Ever. Here are some of the best across NASCAR Nation. It's been great racing with you, and learning from you. Great competitor and exceptional ambassador for @NASCAR . pic.twitter.com/KMmdAiVIWn — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) November 22, 2015 U were my idol growing up. Never did I think I’d race against u for wins. Congrats on a great career @JeffGordonWeb pic.twitter.com/ysKMzOfsaj — Joey Logano (@joeylogano) November 22, 2015 Thank you for EVERYTHING @jeffgordonweb . It's hard to believe this is it... Get it done bro! #24ever pic.twitter.com/ztrH2d2T2Y — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) November 22, 2015 #24ever pic.twitter.com/L2Bi8bsA0n — Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) November 22, 2015 I'm excited to watch @JeffGordonWeb 's last thrilling ride tomorrow. He’s a great friend to me and to the @ClintonFdn . Best of luck #Team24 ! — Bill Clinton (@billclinton) November 21, 2015 Jeffrey (left) handmade both of these guitars & will make 24 total. @JeffGordonWeb getting one on the right! #24Ever pic.twitter.com/sGk8jGocqa — NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) November 21, 2015 93 WINS. 1 FINAL RIDE. Thanks for the memories, @JeffGordonWeb ! #24EVER https://t.co/YQoVbXbxT1 — NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) November 20, 2015 . @JeffGordonWeb CAN do it all! @DarylMotte looks back on the 4-time champ's seat swap w/ @jpmontoya . #NASCAR #24Ever https://t.co/2tJ4fXdYUF — AtTheBuzzer (@TheBuzzerOnFOX) November 21, 2015 Richard Petty was HONORED to THANK @JeffGordonWeb for his contributions to the sport. #24Ever pic.twitter.com/YPaNgZMoBw — RPMotorsports (@RPMotorsports) November 21, 2015 The 2️⃣4️⃣ crew, past and present. #24ever pic.twitter.com/wWsOphz0Ix — #TheChase (@NASCAR) November 21, 2015 What an awesome tribute to @JeffGordonWeb by @HomesteadMiami ! #24ever pic.twitter.com/62LLu9fvN9 — Axalta Racing (@AxaltaRacing) November 20, 2015 Not taking our time on the track with @JeffGordonWeb for granted this weekend. #Grateful #24ever pic.twitter.com/BQL1acsuw2 — Team Lowe's Racing (@LowesRacing) November 20, 2015 . @JeffGordonWeb still owes Eldora $10.... #24Ever (Thanks to the Baltes & Schmitmeyer families for finding this.) pic.twitter.com/xjJ5ev2CcV — Eldora Speedway (@EldoraSpeedway) November 20, 2015 I have been a 24 fan since I was a kid, so it's surreal to race against him, and now-to be in his last race. #24ever https://t.co/4vsN5iC8XT — Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) November 19, 2015 If this campaign was good enough for D. Jeter, then it sure as hell is good enough for Jeff Gordon . #24ever #nascar pic.twitter.com/hZQwQ0512c — nascarcasm (@nascarcasm) November 19, 2015 They. Are. BACK! @JimmieJohnson ’s yellow 48’s take the track once again this weekend to celebrate #24ever . pic.twitter.com/1iQOlrqspn — Team Lowe's Racing (@LowesRacing) November 17, 2015 . @JeffGordonWeb 's @USACNation racing days remembered in tribute video. #NASCAR #24ever https://t.co/4rKIGjrLn0 — FOX SPORTS: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) November 16, 2015 One race left. Thank you, Jeff . We'll see you in the Hall. #24ever https://t.co/WDFnKCFKod — Richmond Raceway (@RIRInsider) November 16, 2015 23 years of greatness in ☝️ place. Do yourself a favor and check it out: https://t.co/WzwT6FrXIW #24ever pic.twitter.com/YNAxM9l7JL — #TheChase (@NASCAR) November 15, 2015
Jeff Green , who is subbing for Eric McClure, crashes hard into the wall after a tire blows on the No. 14 car.
After a mechanical failure of some sort, Jeff Green's day ends with a hard hit in the tire barrier.
RELATED: Full lineup HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Denny Hamlin stole the thunder from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' four Championship Round drivers, winning the pole for Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC). Outrunning Joey Logano and championship-eligible teammate Kyle Busch for the top starting spot, Hamlin toured the 1.5-mile speedway in 30.568 seconds (176.655 mph) in the third and final round of Friday's knockout time trials. Logano (176.263 mph) will start beside Hamlin in the season finale, followed by Busch, the highest qualifier among the drivers competing for the series title. Chasers Jeff Gordon (175.291 mph) and Martin Truex Jr . (174.498 mph) will start fifth and 11th, respectively, with defending champion Kevin Harvick taking the green from the 13th starting spot. Given the focus on the four contenders, Hamlin introduced himself as "Mr. Irrelevant" when he took the podium for the pole winner's press conference. But he did relish the prospect of winning what will be Jeff Gordon 's last race in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. "Sitting back here and watching Jeff talk and everything, it's like, man, you know, I thought about it before, but I didn't think about like how awesome it would be to win his final race," said Hamlin, who won his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Homestead and the 23rd of his career. "No disrespect to him, but, man, that would be awesome to win his final race. I hope he finishes third behind Kyle." Harvick posted the fastest lap of the day (177.848 mph) in the opening round, but his fortunes and those of Gordon moved in opposite directions for the remainder of the session. Without benefit of a mock qualifying run in opening practice, Gordon slipped outside the top 24 on his first qualifying attempt but recovered to advance to the second round with a 17th-place effort on his second run. Gordon was sixth fastest in the second round to advance to the final session. "That was disappointing, and I think that really affected me, that first run," Gordon said. "I just didn't push the car hard enough, didn't realize how much more grip was going to be out there compared to practice, and I just wasn't aggressive enough. The car was fine. The car was good. I just needed to go faster mainly through (Turns) 1 and 2. "I really did not think we could go faster than that. I didn't think the tires would have it in them. The fact that we were able to advance to the second round was huge. Kind of got me motivated and pumped up after that, and we made some adjustments, some big adjustments on the car, which we felt like we needed to do as you advance through the round and get the tires hot and air pressures start changing you know you've got to adjust the balance. "The team did an excellent, excellent job of that in those last couple laps. That last one could have been a tiny bit better, but knowing that we had one extra lap on the tires, I'm very, very proud and happy with that run." Harvick, on the other hand, failed to crack the top 12 in the second round by .002 seconds and will start deepest in the field of all the Chase drivers. "Yeah, round one was really good for us, and then we went to round two and just really, really tight in the next two runs that we made," Harvick said. "We just never really recovered from what we did in the first round to make it repeat. "All in all, I just think our balance was too tight. We'll work on the race car and go from there." Note: Jeb Burton and Reed Sorenson failed to make the 43-car field.
Race day info What: 17th annual Ford EcoBoost 400 . When: Sunday, Nov. 22 Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway , 1.5-mile oval in Homestead, Florida " Learn more about the track Green flag time: 3:15 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) Forecast: Cloudy, high of 82 degrees, 80 percent chance of rain and possible thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service National anthem: Zachary Levi, actor ("Chuck," "Heroes Reborn") Grand marshal: Hoda Kotb, co-host of NBC's "Today." Distance: 400.5 miles, 267 laps. Pit road speed: 45 mph. Caution car speed: 55 mph. Competition caution: At or around Lap 25 On the front row 1. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (176.655 mph) 2. Joey Logano , No. 22 Team Penske Ford (176.263 mph) RELATED: See the full lineup " See all 43 cars Fastest in practice First practice: Carl Edwards , No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (175.143 mph). " Results Second practice: Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (176.010 mph). " Results Final practice: Joey Logano , No. 22 Team Penske Ford (175.404 mph). " Results Key story lines 1. Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex already winners " Read more 2. Homestead could be 'fairy-tale' ending for Gordon " Read more 3. Harvick focused on title -- not verbal jabs " Read more 4. Kyle Busch signs contract extension with JGR " Read more Former winners in the field Greg Biffle (3), Tony Stewart (3), Carl Edwards (2), Denny Hamlin (2), Kurt Busch (1), Jeff Gordon (1), Kevin Harvick (1), Matt Kenseth (1). RELATED: How NASCAR crowns its champion " Title-clinching scenarios They said it: Championship 4 final practice edition Kyle Busch : "Really pleased with it -- it's definitely one of the best race cars I've had here for sure. It does the things that I think that it needs to do so hopefully I’m right and hopefully we’ve got a good race car for tomorrow." Jeff Gordon : "The very first run that final practice was great. I felt really good about it. We've got a few things on the longer run that I felt like we can work on. The second run was so-so. The track definitely lost some grip. I think we have a good indication what the track conditions are going to be like in the race, so that is all really valuable information that we can put into our database and make adjustments and hopefully good decisions for (Sunday)." Rodney Childers , crew chief for Kevin Harvick : "The car seems to have had pretty good speed. Definitely a lot better than what we were here last year. The guys did a good job. Kevin learned a lot running the top up against the wall. I feel like we got a lot of good information with those long runs. We will make a few adjustments for the race to try to keep the car tightened up and hopefully be good." Martin Truex Jr .: "We haven't made any gains on it. It's been a frustrating day. We have been struggling with the car and we really haven't hit on anything that helped it. So we are going to go in there and work on it right now and hopefully come up with something for (Sunday)."