Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty share memories of their first and last race: 1992 finale at Atlanta


While Richard Petty was making the final start of his NASCAR Cup Series career at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon was making his first on November 15, 1992.

But Gordon knew his debut paled in comparison to the magnitude of the seven-time champion’s impending retirement after the season finale, which also featured a six-driver battle royale for a championship that was won by the late Alan Kulwicki.

“I certainly recognized the significance for me to be part of it because of what I was seeing,” Gordon told NBC Sports’ Kyle Petty during a sitdown interview with Richard Petty to mark the race’s upcoming 30-year anniversary (watch the video above or at the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel). “Everything was about Richard’s final race, watching him walk through the garage area. Everywhere he went he was just mobbed by cameras, media and fans.”

But it turns out, Gordon had caught the eye of “The King” as well.

“What I remember about him, seen some kid walking around over there, had a little uniform on, had a little mustache,” Richard Petty recalled with a laugh. “He was 21 years old and was trying to look like he was 30. And he really looked like he was about 16. I remember him just because of that little mustache he had, the first time I ever met him.”

‘THE KING’ AT 85: Another milestone for Richard Petty

“The King” turned to Gordon with a genuine curiosity that had been lingering for three decades.

“Why did you do that?” Petty playfully asked about the mustache.

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Jeff Gordon and the famous mustache before his Cup debut at Atlanta (ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images).

With a laugh, Gordon replied that it helped with gaining access to sprint car garage areas as an underaged teenage competitor before he went to NASCAR.

“I could grow a mustache early on, obviously not a very good one, and I thought that would make me look old enough to belong in the garage area of those races, and I kept it,” Gordon said. “You should have come over to me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t know what kind of career you’re going to have, but I can help you with your look!’ ”

During the sitdown, which was conducted this week at Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon and Petty recalled their memories of an Atlanta race weekend that now is remembered as a watershed in NASCAR history. It was the last title battle involving Kulwicki and Davey Allison, both of whom died after aviation-related accidents over the next eight months.

In their first interview together about the 1992 season finale, here are highlights of some memories from Gordon and Petty (the video feature of their on-camera sitdown can be seen in the embed at the top of this page above or at the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel and a shorter version also also will run during Sunday’s Atlanta prerace show at 2 p.m ET on USA Network):

 As a legend neared the end of a farewell season without a top 10 and an upstart prepared for a high-profile rookie season, Petty and Gordon entered the race with different emotions but a similar goal: Don’t wreck. (Unfortunately, neither was successful.)

Petty: “(There was) some relief this was my last race. The big deal for me and the crew (was) run the whole race. Finish the cotton-picking race. Because this is your last race. That last year, I probably didn’t race with anybody. I was not competitive at all. I know it was my last race and was trying to be careful. Emotionally the whole family was there. All our friends come, and everybody showed up to say bye. It was a big deal, and it wasn’t. I’m not an emotional person. It’s just another day in Richard Petty’s life.

“I won my last race in ’84. And in my mind, I knew I needed it because it was going downhill already as far as being competitive. But I loved to drive the race car so much, and I knew I was going to miss it so much, and I said, ‘OK, I’m going to stay and get it completely out of my system because I see people quit and try to come back, and that don’t work.’ So I said, ‘Just stay, stay, stay,’ and it never got out of my system. But finally I think STP said, ‘We’re not going to sponsor you.’ I think that was a lot of the decisions on that.”

November 15, 1992: Hooters 500 - Richard Petty
Richard Petty in the No. 43 before the final start of his NASCAR Cup career. He finished 35th (Focus on Sport/Getty Images).

Gordon: “I was young and trying to make my own name and coming into a sport that I had a lot of respect for the competitors and tracks and the cars, but it was all new to me. I was still learning a lot. My dream was to get to the Cup level. I didn’t know a whole lot about stock-car racing. I knew who Richard Petty was. I knew who Dale Earnhardt was as a kid growing up, but I really was thinking more Indianapolis. Not so much NASCAR. So when I finally got thrust into it, I loved the cars, the tracks, the drivers. I just wanted to emulate guys like Richard, I looked up to him and wanted to be him. Every chance I got, I was trying to follow what was going on. I was racing Saturdays (in the Busch Series) with guys like Earnhardt, Jarrett, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott. I felt like I can at least keep up with them on some days. I wonder what I’ll be like to get into Cup. The final race in Atlanta. I wasn’t thinking at the time what a big deal it was going to be. I knew it was Richard’s final year and every weekend they were celebrating (him), but I had no idea what that one race was going to be like. I was just more scared to death of making my first start and I felt I was under a microscope. It wasn’t until I got there, I realized the impact he was making that day and his career being celebrated the way it was and how special it was to be a part of it.

“It was more nerves. Just being nervous about the unexpected and unknown of racing a Cup car and be out there with the best of the best. I wanted to be competitive. We’d tested and were really fast. I was feeling pretty good about myself until the first round of qualifying. I thought I was going for the pole and about wrecked. We qualified pretty good the second round. Most of it was not wanting to look like an idiot and being appreciative that I was there. There were thousands of people around him. I remember that. I remember standing atop the truck watching Richard walking through the garage area. Wow. I’d never seen that many people in the garage area. The graciousness, (he was) walking, signing, taking pictures with every single one of them. That had a big influence on me. To me I’m looking at a legend, the greatest that’s ever been, and I want to be something like that and make my own mark, but I want to follow in those footsteps. That had a big impact on me of how to treat the fans, what it’s like to have a career like (he) had and how to go out. So I think that made me realize how significant it was to be part of that weekend.”

 The actual race wasn’t very memorable for either driver. Gordon crashed early and completed only 164 of 328 laps. Petty made 95 laps but was running at the finish after being involved in a wreck.

Petty: “I don’t remember that much about it. We were running back there with Darrell (Waltrip) and two or three guys, and I don’t know if I messed up or they messed up coming off of 4. Got in a wreck and (the car) caught on fire. I drove down in the first corner, pulled up beside the fire truck. This is true. The guys got out of the fire truck, come over and want my autograph. I said, ‘Man, the car’s burning!’ You always hear the deal everyone wants to go out in a blaze of glory. I just went out in a blaze. Wasn’t no glory.

“The car was tore all to pieces. The crew said we’ve got to get him out there to finish the race. They worked a third of the race on it. I can remember I got out of the car, got up in the (team) truck, and we all had a good cry (with his wife, Lynda, and daughters). They was glad it was all over with, and then the guys said, ‘Get your helmet, we’re going to put you back on the track.’ Probably 10 laps to go, we just pulled up to the pit area and just sat there (until) a couple of laps to go, because we know we couldn’t run fast, and we still were having a heck of a race for the championship. So I just rode around a couple of slow laps. In the rundown, it shows I finished the race. That was a victory for the crew.”

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The fiery crash during Richard Petty’s last NASCAR race (ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images).

Gordon: “(The race) wasn’t long! It kind of went a lot like the rest of the weekend. We were super fast. Had a great car. I remember us moving forward in the race. In Atlanta back then, super fast and a different configuration, I remember how free you had to start the cars on a full load of fuel. These are big sweeping fast corners at Atlanta. And you just hold onto it until the car starts to tighten up and lead off the front and then you go. Well, I didn’t make it that far. My early times in stock cars in general was (about), ‘Is it tight enough?’ Everybody else told me you want the car to be neutral, which I was used to in a sprint car, but you didn’t want to be neutral on Lap 5. You wanted to be on Lap 25. So I spent a lot of time backing into a lot of things, and that’s the way that day went. All I remember is just hanging on for the first several laps of a run and then unfortunately backing into the wall early in the race and ended my day. Turn 1 and 2. I’ll never forget that.”

 Gordon also had vivid memories of a prerace drivers meeting that included several dignitaries and a present for the drivers in the field from “The King.”

Gordon: “(What) stands out the most for me was the drivers meeting. I feel like I finally made it, and here I am in this drivers meeting with all these great drivers, and because of Richard’s final race, it was all the dignitaries, the celebrities. I’m pretty sure Burt Reynolds was there. I remember some big country music stars. It was a pageantry in itself just talking about Richard’s final race. So just to be there and witness that.

“And of course the thing I cherish with some very cool things that I’ve been able to collect over the years, which is Richard did something neat for everybody that was a part of that event. He gave out these money clips. They had your starting position on it.”

Jeff Gordon holds up the commemorative money clip he received from Richard Petty before his first Cup Series start (Nate Ryan).

Petty: “Wasn’t no money in them.”

Gordon: “No money, but you were giving me hope! That day, being part of it, and holding onto this. I’ve always had it in a safe place. I’ve moved houses and always held onto this. Because that day meant a lot to me. So it says on the back here, ‘Thanks for the memories, Richard Petty.’ ”

Petty had another gift for Gordon on the morning of his final Cup Series start Nov. 22, 2015 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the No. 24 Chevrolet could win the championship with a victory. Petty presented Gordon with 93 dollar bills, one for each of his victories.

Petty: “I told him, ‘If you win the race, I’ll give you another dollar.’ ”

Gordon: “I wanted that dollar so bad. That might be my second-favorite Richard Petty moment, because (he) didn’t have to do that. He came up, brought me a hat. He pulled out 94 $1 bills. That is the coolest thing ever.”

Though it was difficult to appreciate the impact of the 1992 season finale at Atlanta in the moment, both Gordon and Petty have developed a much deeper perspective in the past 30 years.

Petty: “When it was changing, I never thought anything about it. Now  I look back at what (Gordon) accomplished, you see it was really a bigger deal than just me and him. Because the sport went into another level. After that, I think it become more commercial also. Then you got more sponsorship, you got to be known all over the United States, all over the world, because people advertised, so that made NASCAR grow. It gave them a bigger footprint. So everything changed. It wasn’t just the way we raced, the people, the way they advertised, it just changed. Looking back, it was one of the biggest changes NASCAR had over the year.”

Gordon: “So many things were happening. As a young guy coming from the open wheel world, I came and saw massive crowds. Other than the Indianapolis 500, the grandstands (of IndyCar races) were not full. In the sprint car and midget races, we had 5,000 people if it was a good race. My first NASCAR race, it might have been Rockingham, there was 35,000, 40,000 people. A ton of people there. That opened my eyes that, man, they’re doing something right here. You’ve got “The King,” “The Intimidator,” but you had great racing. Just the product on the track. Driving these cars. I came into it not expecting to enjoy the racing. OK, I’ll drive this big, heavy car. Then I got into it that I love driving this car because of the big high-banked tracks. The competition you had. I realized how good the drivers were. How good the product was on track. I was looking at it (saying), ‘I get why all these people are here.’ … Everything was being done right at that time. My timing, besides the fact I got to be in Richard Petty’s last race, my timing of starting my career could not have been better.”

Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty share a laugh after their sitdown interview about the 1992 season finale at Atlanta (Nate Ryan).

Petty: “It was perfect for your situation, and it was the same way when I came (into NASCAR in 1958). It was a perfect time for me. My dad was winning races and championships and all that, and I came in just as they started the superspeedway era. Which was great because all we were running to begin with was dirt tracks. Then they started superspeedways, and the guys running all those years went to Daytona and never run a racetrack where you run wide open. I’d run around the outside keeping it wound up. And I learned on the big tracks and some of the drivers winning before I got there never really adapted to that kind of racing. It was the perfect timing for me also.”

Gordon (directly to Petty): “I do have to say one thing. I don’t know if I’ve had the chance to do this on camera. I maybe told you in person the day you brought me those 93 dollars. I want to thank you for what you did for what you did to make the sport what it was for me. It was something on my shoulder I had to carry because of you, Pearson and those guys that built the sport up, but primarily you to what we have today.”

Petty: “We just came along at a good time while NASCAR was rolling. Me, Pearson, Allison and those guys, they made a foundation, and then you all took it from the foundation, and the tree grows a bit further. It’s still growing. We planted a lot of the seeds, and you all are getting benefit out of it.”

Gordon (laughing): “Yeah, we are. And that’s what I’m trying to get at. Thank you because it changed my life and changed a lot of people’s lives. This sport is unbelievable what it is today. You really got that all started.”

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023


Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”