On the 22nd of February, the 22 car of Joey Logano went to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500.
Further back in the pack, Jeff Gordon’s storybook weekend suddenly took a negative turn.
Yet both drivers were still smiling at the end of the race on Sunday.
“For some reason, I’m still smiling and enjoying every moment of it,” Gordon said to a television reporter post-race. “Obviously I enjoyed the first half way more than the second half. What an amazing car we had!”
Gordon led a race high 87 laps, dominating most of the beginning of the race after starting from the pole in what was his final Daytona 500. This is Gordon’s final full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and, though he said he doesn’t plan on fully retiring from this sport, he also said that last Sunday was his final run in the “Great American Race”.
So, of course, Gordon was the emotional favorite heading into the race. After winning the pole and putting on a dominant run in the beginning stages of the race, it looked like this may very well be the “going-out-with-a-bang” style victory for Gordon that many were predicting and expecting. Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had shown speed all throughout Speedweeks, and no one was surprised to see the three of them running towards the front.
However, a late restart put Gordon in a position he was unable to recover from.
“Had one restart where I started on the outside and just couldn’t get our line going and we got shuffled back,” said Gordon. “Kind of played catch-up from that point on.”
While Logano, Earnhardt, Johnson, and a few others battled towards the front of the field in the final lap of the race, Gordon was involved in a crash on the backstretch that also collected Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, and several others. The wreck brought out the caution before the leaders could make it back to the checkered flag and the field was frozen, giving Logano the victory. Gordon would finish 33rd in what was otherwise shaping up to be a great race for the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion.
But Gordon, ever the veteran, took it all in stride and admits to having a new perspective in this Daytona 500 than in years past.
“I’m just in a different place that is so foreign to me, but so incredible–to just be taking it all in and enjoying every moment,” Gordon continued after the end of the event. “Yeah, right now I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500, but I’m more upset we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”
Gordon also went on to congratulate Logano for his first Daytona 500 victory.
The 43-year-old Gordon will be replaced by Chase Elliott in 2016 and Gordon’s future plans have not yet been announced. For now, he continues to insist he is focused on winning the championship this season.
Next weekend, the series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track where Gordon has won five times and led almost 1300 laps. Whether Gordon will be able to maintain such a positive attitude throughout the rest of the season remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Gordon is bound and determined to enjoy every moment and make sure he leaves an impression in his final full season at NASCAR’s highest level.
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Gordon is always a class act. I’ll miss seeing him racing in 2016.
Disappointed at the finish, but happy that the 24 ran up front all day. It probably feels worse being a Stewart, Kenseth or Keselowski fan right now. There is nothing worse than having your driver wiped out in the early stages of a Daytona 500. All that build up, then poof. On to Atlanta.
It definitely feels worse being a Keselowski fan, but with the current chase system, a win down the road erases all that disappointment.