Jeff Gordon was the toast of the NASCAR town during the 2015 Speedweeks at Daytona. After announcing that 2015 will be his final year as a full time driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Gordon began his round of final races with the biggest one in NASCAR, Sunday’s Daytona 500.
During the media day prior to Speedweeks, Gordon reiterated that this Daytona 500 would be his last. So when he went out and won the pole last Sunday it was big news. The four-time champion would lead the field to the green in his final Daytona 500.
Sunday it looked as though everything was falling into place for a storybook ending for Gordon. He led 77 of the first 100 laps and seemed to be the class of the field. The second half of the race however Gordon began to fade. As the laps wound down, Gordon found himself mid-pack. On the final restart, a green-white-checkered flag finish, Gordon was trying to charge to the front. But on the white flag lap Gordon was tagged by Austin Dillon exiting turn two. Cars spun and scattered as in front Joey Logano still holding a lead raced his way into turn 3. NASCAR threw the caution and Logano cruised the rest of the lap to victory.
Despite crashing out Gordon was happy when it was all over. He was scored in 33rd place.
“For some reason I’m still smiling and enjoying every moment of it,” Gordon said. “Obviously, I enjoyed the first half a lot more than the second half. What an amazing car we had.”
“Had one restart where I started on the outside and just couldn’t get our line going,” he added. “We got shuffled back and kind of played catch up from that point on.”
Still Gordon could smile as he reflected on his final Speedweeks as a full time driver. He said it was an amazing day and week.
“ I am just in a different place that is so foreign to me, but so incredible,” Gordon said. “To just be taking it all in and enjoying every moment. 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 seemed pleased with winner Joey Logano. The 24-year old driver wasn’t among everyone’s favorites but staged an impressive run for his first Daytona 500 victory.
“That moment you saw there with his dad that is what it’s all about,” Gordon said. “These types of moments, such a big race it means so much to all of us. You want to share that with the people that you are closest to that have been there along the way. Congratulations to him and I don’t know what else to say other than I enjoyed it. I’m not going to miss those final laps. That was just crazy, but 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.”
At the end of the day Gordon said it was tough to end his final Daytona 500 like he did. Despite leading a race high 89 laps, Gordon finished far from where he started.
“It is disappointing because things were going so well, especially that first half,” Gordon said. “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. The car was amazing. I knew it was going to be crucial to maintain that track position. That one restart I chose the outside and that line just didn’t go. From that point on, we were just playing catch up.”