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Jeff Gordon’s Daytona finale ends with last-lap wreck

Associated Press

Daytona Beach, Fla – . — Jeff Gordon was mobbed as he weaved his way from pit road through the Daytona garage and back to his hauler.

Fans in No. 24 apparel pleaded with Gordon for an autograph, a picture. Most of all, they begged for his return.

“Thank you, Jeff!”

“One more time!”

“Jeff, come back!”

Gordon briefly paused for a few signatures before retreating inside. But if the four-time NASCAR champion had a sliver of thought of a return next season to the superspeedway, the scene above reminded him why he walked away — his battered Chevy slowly lifted into the car bay.

Gordon wrecked on the last lap of his final Daytona 500, a crushing end to the start of his final season.

“I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500,” Gordon said, “but I’m more upset we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”

Austin Dillon turned Gordon in the middle of a huge pack vying for position in the closing two miles at Daytona International Speedway.

Gordon spun, banged into other cars and then eventually sputtered across the finish line in 33rd place.

Earnhardt falls short

Dale Earnhardt Jr. saved his first tweet for the night of his 2014 Daytona 500 win.

About 5,100 tweets and one year later, Earnhardt lamented on Twitter his lost shot at back-to-back championships.

“That car should have won the race,” he tweeted Sunday.

Earnhardt stalked the leaders late until a mistake on a restart with 19 laps left dumped him from contention. Earnhardt rallied for a third-place finish in his first race with new crew chief Greg Ives.

“I’ve got a great team,” Earnhardt said.

“I feel like Greg is going to be awesome.”

Kyle Busch’s status up in air

Joe Gibbs is unsure how long Kyle Busch will be sidelined with a broken right leg and left foot from a crash at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch had surgery on his right leg in Daytona after Saturday’s crash in the Xfinity Series race. His foot will be examined when he returns to Charlotte, North Carolina, by specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, Gibbs said.

“Time or length, I haven’t really, I don’t have a good understanding with that from the doctors,” the team owner said, referring to a timetable for recovery.

Busch missed Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Stewart frustrated again

Tony Stewart’s Daytona 500 drought continues.

Stewart was involved in a five-car accident early in NASCAR’s season opener Sunday, sustaining enough damage to his No. 14 Chevrolet that it ended his chances of winning the “Great American Race.”

Stewart is now winless in 17 tries in NASCAR’S premier event.

“Well, it’s just part of it,” said Stewart, the driver nicknamed “Smoke.” ‘’It’s not what we had planned.”

Kid Rock entertains

Kid Rock felt right at home at Daytona.

“It’s the redneck Super Bowl,” the Detroit rocker said. “It lines up pretty well in my wheelhouse.”

Rock headlined the prerace concert. He performed several hits as well as his new single “First Kiss” on pit road. Rock’s next album drops Tuesday. He hopes fans enjoy his new material as much as they did hits like “Bawitdaba” and “Cowboy.”

“I’m still awaiting the day when you show up and say you’re going to play some new stuff and people kind of head to the bathroom to get a beer,” he said.

Ford enjoys sweep

Ford swept every points race at Daytona, culminating with Joey Logano’s victory in the Daytona 500. It was the first time the automaker had accomplished the feat.