Final Chapters: Comparing Jeff Gordon’s last race to those of other NASCAR legends

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Jeff Gordon ended his Sprint Cup career after 24 years and 797 races by competing for the title in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The No. 24 led nine laps and finished sixth, and Gordon ended the season third in points.

Not all driver’s careers can end like Gordon’s.

All of the drivers Gordon faced while making his debut in the 1992 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway have moved on in retirement, lower racing series or died.

Here is a look at 10 noteworthy drivers Gordon competed against in that race and how the end of their Sprint Cup careers compared to Gordon’s.

Richard Petty, 1,184 starts – “The King’s” final start came in the Gordon’s first Sprint Cup venture. Eight years after his 200th and final win in the 1984 Firecracker 400, Petty started the 1992 finale at Atlanta in 39th. After a crash on Lap 96, Petty would finish in 35th, 233 laps down but still running.

Darrell Waltrip, 809 starts – The three-time champion’s career ended with a 29-race season in 2000 driving the Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford. His last start came in the season finale at Atlanta in the NAPA 500. Eight years after his last win, Waltrip started 43rd and finished 34th.

Dale Earnhardt Sr., 676 starts – Earnhardt was killed in a crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt was credited with a 12th-place finish. The last race Earnhardt actually completed was the 2000 finale at Atlanta. Earnhardt started eighth and finished second to Jerry Nadeau, who scored his only Sprint Cup win.

Rusty Wallace, 706 starts – A year removed from his 55th and final Sprint Cup win, at Martinsville Speedway, Wallace started his final race at Homestead in the 2005 Ford 400. He rolled off the grid 37th and finished 13th. He finished eighth in the point standings.

Ricky Rudd, 906 starts – Rudd, who held the record for consecutive starts until Gordon surpassed it in 2015, retired after the 2007 season. A shoulder injury kept Rudd out of five races, the only races he ever missed because of an injury. His last start came at Miami, where he started 38th and took the checkered flag in 21st.

Dale Jarrett, 668 starts – Jarrett’s final five starts in the Sprint Cup Series came in the first five races of 2008 with Michael Waltrip Racing. The 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee made his final start in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 32-time winner started and finished 37th, 10 laps down.

Sterling Marlin, 748 starts – Three years after his final full Sprint Cup season, the two-time Daytona 500 winner competed in seven races in 2009. The last came in the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Marlin started 38th and dropped out after 355 laps due to brake problems, finishing 35th.

Bill Elliott, 828 starts – The 44-time Sprint Cup winner retired nine years after his last full-time season in 2003. Elliott started two races in 2012, the last coming in the Coke Zero 400. Elliott started sixth but a crash took him out on Lap 123, resulting in a finish in 37th.

Terry Labonte, 890 starts – Ten years after his last full Sprint Cup season, the two-time champion and 2016 NASCAR Hall of inductee called it quits after the 2014 fall race at Talladega Superspeedway. Labonte started ninth – his first top-10 start in 68 races (2005 at Sonoma) – and finished 33rd, one lap down.

Mark Martin, 882 starts – His final full season came in 2011, but the 31-year career of Martin came to an end (for real) in 2013. In substitution of an injured Tony Stewart, Martin started 22nd and finished 19th in the 2013 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead. Martin competed in 28 of 36 that season and finished 25th in points.