HOMESTEAD — The accolades began pouring in for Jeff Gordon long before the green flag dropped.
Former president Bill Clinton sent him a tweet. Racing legend Mario Andretti wanted a photo. Fans from all over the country wrote hundreds of messages on his pit stall.
That support is why Gordon wouldn't let himself be too upset after his legendary career ended Sunday — not with a championship but with a sixth-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
"I'm so appreciative," said Gordon, who finishes with four NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and 93 wins. "It's been the most amazing experience. Gosh, I'm a little disappointed, I'll be honest. I thought going into today's race we had something for them. I think when the sun went down, we were missing a little something."
Gordon, never known for strong restarts, charged into first on a restart on Lap 36.
His lead was short-lived. Kevin Harvick pulled away after another restart nine laps later. Gordon called his car "terrible" late as he spent most of the race around 10th before rallying to finish sixth.
Gordon said some of his most powerful sendoffs came from his fellow drivers. Danica Patrick wore a Gordon cap to the drivers' meeting, and Harvick posed for a photograph in front of Gordon's famed No. 24 Chevrolet.
"That's just unheard of," Gordon said. "I don't know if it gets much better than that."
Gordon thanked his competitors by giving every driver a ring box. It was a fitting symmetry for Gordon, who received a money clip from Richard Petty in 1992 when he made his series debut in Petty's last race.
Truex 12th: As the driver of a one-car team, Martin Truex knew he would be in for a tough test. He just didn't expect that he'd struggle with his car all day no matter what changes his Furniture Row Racing team made.
After leading only one lap last season, Truex made the Chase by earning his third career Cup win and was consistent enough down the stretch to earn a spot among the final four.
"Hopefully this is our first season battling for a championship," Truex said, "and not our last."
Local ties: Tampa native Aric Almirola was collected in a five-car crash on Lap 47. Clint Bowyer's spin triggered the wreck, which also ended the victory hopes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Almirola, a Hillsborough High alumnus, finished 41st.
"I don't know what the (heck) happened to our car," Bowyer said.
The collision was a sour ending for Bowyer in the last race for Michael Waltrip Racing, which is folding.
Tampa-born Denny Hamlin started from the pole and had perhaps the most eventful day outside of the four finalists. Flames and smoke shot from the bottom and back of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the first 12 laps. He went briefly to the garage and got three laps down. He climbed back to the lead lap in only 50 laps and finished 10th.
Nuts and bolts: Brett Moffitt earned rookie of the year honors after finishing 34th in points.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.