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DAYTONA BEACH (AP) — As rain delayed his final race at Daytona International Speedway, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was showered with cheers during driver introductions Sunday.
Speedway officials handed out thousands of placards commemorating Gordon’s milestones at Daytona, dating to his victory in a Daytona 500 qualifying race in 1993. By the time he was introduced in front of the grandstands near Turn 1, many of those cards were soggy from the rain.
That didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of some fans as Gordon walked on stage without an umbrella. They cheered while waving the commemorative cards.
Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, announced in January he plans to retire from full-time racing and become part of Fox’s broadcasting crew in 2016.
Gordon has no wins and two top-five finishes this year for Hendrick Motorsports. He ranks 11th in the Sprint Cup standings.
“This track is extremely special to me. Of course, we all know how much this track means to our sport,” Gordon said Saturday. “It’s hard for me to really put all those thoughts and feelings into perspective, knowing that I have half the season still to go.
“I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until we get further down into the final part of the season, but this place has meant a lot. It’s going to be tough not coming back here and being behind the wheel. But I’m also really excited about calling this race next February.”
With rain wiping out qualifying Saturday, Gordon will start 23rd in the 43-car field based on practice speeds.
Hours before the start of the race, fans flocked near the garage area under overcast skies to have pictures taken near a replica of Gordon’s iconic rainbow-colored No. 24 Chevrolet — another send-off the track helped arrange for Gordon.
“I have this feeling it’s going to hit me all at once at Homestead,” Gordon said, referring to the season finale in November.
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