When it comes to numbers NASCAR is nothing like the other major sports. Sure, one could argue that a driver’s number is the thing that fans most associate them with. However, in NASCAR those numbers always seem to move on because NASCAR doesn’t retire numbers like other sports do. You will never see a Miami Dolphin wearing the No. 13 again because that belongs to Dan Marino. In baseball, no player will ever wear the No. 42 because that number was retired for Jackie Robinson.
NASCAR is a bit different.
The epic No. 43 that was made famous by Richard Petty and the iconic No. 3 that was driven by Dale Earnhardt Sr. will both be seen next month at the Daytona 500. Aric Almirola will be driving the No. 43 car while Austin Dillon will be behind the wheel of the No. 3 machine. Petty and Earnhardt have 14 NASCAR championships between the two of them and will forever be linked to those numbers, yet younger NASCAR fans might now more about Almirola and Dillon.
With the announcement of Jeff Gordon leaving NASCAR full time after 2015 the question about retiring numbers will be asked again in reference to the No. 24. Gordon doesn’t have as many titles as Petty and Earnhardt (he is a four-time champion) but he is one of the greatest drivers to ever race in NASCAR. Gordon’s impact on the sport helped launch it into heights that it had never seen before. His success was monumental both on and off of the track.
So, should NASCAR retire his number?
In the history of NASCAR there hasn’t been a single number that has been retired. The closest was in the Whelen Modified Series where the No. 61 was officially retired after the tragic death of Richie Evans. In the Sprint Cup Series the No. 3 was unofficially retired after the death of Earnhardt. However, that all changed because of Dillon (that doesn’t count the two occasions that Earnhardt Jr. drove the No. 3). The No. 43 that Petty made famous have never come close to being retired.
One could easily argue that NASCAR cannot retire the No. 24 after having not retired previous numbers in the sport. That might be a fair point but to that I would argue that they need to start somewhere, right? The No. 3 and No. 43 are currently being used so that talk can be shelved for another day. Once Gordon walks away completely there isn’t going to be someone else in that number (Chase Elliott doesn’t need to drive the No. 24). Gordon is also the only noteworthy driver to ever pilot the No. 24 car.
History of the No. 24 car.
- Races – 1,339 (Gordon – 761)
- Championships – 4 (Gordon – 4)
- Wins – 92 (Gordon – 92)
- Top-Five’s – 359 (Gordon – 320)
- Top-10’s – 601 (Gordon -454)
- Pole Awards – 78 (Gordon – 77)
- Laps Led – 24,974 (Gordon – 24,652)
Aside from Gordon the only other driver to run more than 16 races in the No. 24 car was Cecil Gordon. Cecil ran 373 races and finished his career with 27 top-five finishes and 102 top-10 finishes but only led 18 laps during that time span. In the 578 races that the No. 24 car has run and Gordon has not been the driver, it has led only 322 laps. Those 322 laps are in 578 races and are between 62 other drivers. When it comes to NASCAR the No. 24 is Jeff Gordon.
Will NASCAR retire the No. 24 when Gordon is done driving it? Conventional wisdom says that they most likely will not. Will Rick Hendrick and HMS do everything in their power to assure that nobody else drives that number? It’s quite possible. Should NASCAR and HMS actually retire the No. 24? Yes, without question.