Kyle Busch may have won the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday, but Jeff Gordon was still elated following his last-ever race behind the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet. The 44-year old finished a solid sixth at Miami-Homestead and at one point led the race – a performance Gordon said he was still going celebrate over.
“Well, we all know nothing would have been quite better than the win,” the ever eloquent Gordon told NASCAR.com post-race. “But I’ve learned a lot in life, and there’s no such thing as a perfect day and a perfect life. Just like there’s no such thing as a perfect race car. They’re really close and good and at times better than the rest, but it doesn’t mean that they’re ever perfect.”
Friends, family and fellow racing drivers celebrated Gordon’s career and achievements over the weekend. Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton sat atop Gordon’s pit box for the race and took photographs with the legendary Sprint Cup driver, while IndyCar stars such as Mario Andretti and James Hinchliffe also made the trek down to Miami to see him race the No. 24 for the last time.
“He’s an icon,” Andretti said. “Not just the personality he brought to the sport as a racer, but as a person himself. He’s been a big contributor to NASCAR’s personality, no doubt about it. He will be missed, but he won’t be going too far away.”
Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick also paid his respects to Gordon – as did the crowd at Miami Homestead, who stood on their feet when he moved into the lead early on in the race and held up placards reading ‘Thank You Jeff. 24Ever’ during driver introductions.
“I’m real happy for him,” Hendrick said. “I told him I loved him. And he said he loved me. I thanked him for all the years.”
After Gordon got out of his car, which he spent several minutes sitting in post-race drinking in the moment, he gifted Hendrick with the helmet from his last-ever race. It was a gift Gordon had planned to give the team owner he describes as NASCAR’s greatest for a while and wasn’t the only gift he handed out over the weekend. He also gave every driver in the 43-car field an inscribed carbon fiber box commemorating his last-ever race, similar to the ‘Petty Blue’ money clip Richard Petty gifted drivers (including Gordon) in his last ever race in 1992.
Gordon may not be driving the No. 24 anymore (that’s now Chase Elliot’s job) but NASCAR fans will still be able to revel in the likable personality that helped take the sport mainstream. He will remain close to the sport after signing on with FOX as an on-air analyst, and with his daughter Ella and son Leo both expressing an interest in racing, the Gordon name could once again grace a NASCAR racecar.