When Jeff Gordon announced in January that 2015 would be his final full-time season competing in Sprint Cup, the NASCAR icon made a request. He asked racetrack promoters not to turn his final campaign into a distraction-filled, grand farewell tour.
"I want to race hard and be competitive and focus on the racetrack," Gordon said.
So, human nature being what it is, Gordon's 2015 trek around the Sprint Cup circuit has so far been filled with tracks trying to one-up each other in how to memorably send off driver No. 24.
Atlanta Motor Speedway officials presented Gordon with a Bandelero car for his children. At Las Vegas, it was a blackjack table with No. 24 inscribed at all six playing positions.
Never miss a local story.
Bristol had Gordon's children, Ella, 7, and Leo, 4, serve as race grand marshals, including giving the command "Drivers, start your engines."
At Kentucky Speedway, where Gordon will race for the final time July 11 in the fifth Quaker State 400, the powers-that-be have made note of the four-time Cup Series champion's preseason plea not to create a spectacle around his impending departure.
They've also observed how, seemingly, almost every other track has ignored that request.
"This whole thing reminds me of when you get invited to a party and the invitation says 'No gifts,'" Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said Thursday. "Then, you are walking up to go to the party, and your wife is like 'Where's our gift? This is so embarrassing. We have to at least go get a bottle of wine.'"
So, Simendinger says, the brain trust at Kentucky Speedway will have some kind of honor for Gordon — but what?
The Sparta track is the only active Sprint Cup venue upon which Gordon, 43, has never won a race. Which means the most meaningful thing Gordon could get at Kentucky Speedway is something he cannot be given.
Gordon certainly seems to have Kentucky on his mind.
Before the Daytona 500, as the driver rode around the track waving to fans from the back of a pickup truck, Fox Sports asked Gordon what was left on his bucket list. "Kentucky is certainly on my list; that's a track we haven't won at," he said.
At Las Vegas in March, Gordon said, "One of my big goals this year is to win at Kentucky because I want to check off every track on the circuit."
In April at Texas, Gordon was asked where he most wanted to win in 2015. "Kentucky, because I've never won there," he said. "... Kentucky is the last (track) that has been added and it's the one that needs to be checked off. I would love to do that this year. I think that would be something personally that would mean a lot to me."
Gordon's record at Kentucky Speedway is mixed. He is one of only four drivers — with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth — who has finished in the top 10 of all four Cup races in Sparta.
Yet Gordon has never led a lap at Kentucky and has cracked the top five (fifth in 2012) only once.
In the ever-escalating competition among the racetracks over how to honor Gordon, this is what Kentucky Speedway is up against.
At Phoenix, black squares of the checkerboard start/finish line contained the No. 24. Fans who purchased pre-race pit passes could walk on the track and sign a note to Gordon.
Texas Motor Speedway had former Dallas Cowboys star Everson Walls — who wore No. 24 — present Gordon with a Cowboys jersey.
California's Auto Club Speedway changed a street name to "Jeff Gordon Drive."
In Atlanta, on the 24th lap of the race, the scoring pylon flashed "24" in place of all other car numbers.
At Kentucky Speedway, "we want to do something Jeff will like," Simendinger says, "and we want to do something that is 'Kentucky-centric.'"
Apparently, the latter does not mean the Speedway will present Gordon with his own Thoroughbred racehorse.
"We actually thought of that," Simendinger said. "But I'm not a big fan of giving someone a gift they are then going to have to pay to keep up. Horses are expensive."
OK, a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? A personalized Louisville Slugger? Box seats for the 2016 Kentucky Derby?
Now that it's established that, even in NASCAR, "no gifts" means gifts, what is your idea for how Kentucky Speedway should honor Jeff Gordon?