Today is a day Jeff Gordon fans have awaited but also dread

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – They rearranged finances, scheduled vacation time and packed suitcases with their favorite Jeff Gordon shirts, sweaters and jackets, leaving enough room to bring another item back in this farewell season.

For others the trip was a gift, their support of Gordon so strong that there wasn’t a better thing to give them.

Since February, fans have made pilgrimages to tracks around the country, rooting and admiring the driver of the No. 24 car. Some became a fan, as Patricia Weber of Marble Falls, Texas, says, because Gordon was “just cute.’’

Others were drawn to the car’s paint scheme, the driver’s wholesomeness and all those wins. Some liked him because he was different. He came from California via Indiana to NASCAR – not the traditional path to stock cars at the time.

Whatever the reason, they’ve cheered throughout his career from when he made his first start in the 1992 season finale.

Now, the day they’ve awaited and dreaded is here. Gordon could win his fifth championship, but when the checkered flag flies, his career will be complete, leaving many of his fans uncertain who to cheer for next year.

“It’s the turning of an era,’’ said Adam Scribner of Newark, Texas. “Every race car driver has got to hang his helmet up at one point. It’s just a matter of when. Why not hang up while you’re considered one of the best in NASCAR history?’’

Darrell Brewer of Mesa, Ariz., admits “I’m not really looking forward” to today’s race because he knows it will the end of Gordon’s Cup career.

Brewer was at Phoenix International Raceway last weekend to see his favorite driver one last time. He wore a Gordon rainbow jacket purchased in 1994.

He didn’t have to travel as far as others have to see Gordon in this final season. Twenty-year-old Zac O’Hara came from Australia to Texas Motor Speedway to see his first NASCAR race and one of Gordon’s last. O’Hara has been a long-time Gordon fan and was at the track with a Gordon jacket he purchased three years ago in his only other visit to the U.S.

“I thought I’d better get my act together and see him before he’s not racing anymore,’’ O’Hara said.

That day is here, regardless if fans are ready for it.