The four-time champion could have retired the number but elected not to.
Whenever an elite athlete decides it’s time to hang up the helmet for the last time, the question of retiring his or her number is often debated.
That was certainly the case with the No. 24 after Jeff Gordon made his desire known to retire from competition after this season. Considering Gordon’s numbers – four championship, 92 wins and 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup appearances, he’s sure to be a NASCAR Hall-of-Famer on the first ballot.
However, when Hendrick Motorsports officially announced that Chase Elliott would replace Gordon in the No. 24 Chevy in 2016, it put any discussion to rest.
“It was definitely talked about,” Gordon said. “Of course, it was talked about. And Rick Hendrick, he wanted to retire it for maybe a year or a certain period of time. You don’t know what NASCAR will allow with those things. But he definitely throught that out to me and I said, ‘No’.”
Still, Gordon had the option.
The 24 has been such a part of our DNA at Hendrick Motorsports that we needed to carry it on for the fans, for Jeff’s fans and for our fans.
“That was up to Jeff,” team owner Rick Hendrick said during the Charlotte Media Tour on Thursday. “To honor him, I would ask NASCAR if the number could sit for a year or so. But Jeff felt like our fans and his fans would be excited about the fact that Chase was a young kid coming along and taking the seat of the 24.
“The 24 has been such a part of our DNA at Hendrick Motorsports that we needed to carry it on for the fans, for Jeff’s fans and for our fans. But that was our decision and I left it up to Jeff.”
Over the course of history, the sanctioning body ultimately controls the numbers. The only time a number has been somewhat shelved was after Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death in 2001. Last year, the No. 3 Chevy returned to competition at Richard Childress Racing when Austin Dillon, a RCR legacy, graduated to the Cup tour.
But other numbers steeped in history such as the No. 43, which was made famous by seven-time champion and 200-race winner Richard Petty or the Wood Brothers No. 21 or the infamous No. 11 – which Hall of Famer Junior Johnson won in as both an owner and a driver over the course of his career, have been remained on the track.
Gone but not forgotten
Although some Gordon fans may wax nostalgically for the No. 24 once the driver transitions out of the race car, he believes any feelings of remorse will subside once Elliott’s career takes off with Hendrick Motorsports.
I love the 24. I want to see the 24 go on to do great things.
“Until they see how well Chase Elliott does in that car, then it will be like, ‘Yeah, we knew it’,” Gordon said with a laugh. “I love the 24. I want to see the 24 go on to do great things. And I did say now if Chase was really adamant or if Bill (Elliott), Chase and Cindy (Chase’s mother) all felt like another number was more suited, I was open to it.
"But I think that our 24 fans want to see the 24 car continue on with the right person and he’s the right guy. So I think it makes sense to keep it going.”