When last week began, Jeff Gordon didn't even know if he would be racing in the NASCAR season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The uncertainty had to do with him intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix. But Gordon escaped suspension and not only raced at Homestead, but ended the season in Victory Lane celebrating his first-ever win at the South Florida track.
The Homestead win means Kentucky is now the only track where Gordon has not won, and that's only been on the schedule for two years.
"This is a big win," Gordon said. "I mean, we've been really close here in the past years with some good race cars, but just coming up a little bit short. ... With the way this team has handled things and fought through things and some great moments and some pretty low moments, to be able to end the season like this, pretty amazing."
For Gordon, it the marked the end of a tumultuous week where his legacy in the sport was being questioned and he had to continually explain why he would deliberately wreck a competitor.
Yet, as he has done throughout his career, Gordon was able to put all the distractions aside and went on to win for the 87th time. But even as he was celebrating his latest triumph there was still no escaping what transpired a week ago.
"You can try all you want to try to move past the moment, but man, it just ate me up inside all week," Gordon said. "I just kept going back and forth about the decisions that I made and wishing I had made different decisions to backing up reasons why I made the decisions I made, and I just kept going back and forth from being disappointed, being angry, feeling that I had a right, I didn't have a right."
What helped Gordon move past Phoenix was his car owner, Rick Hendrick, adamantly coming to his driver's defense during a Friday press conference.
"It meant the world to me to have Rick stand here by my side not just in the media center but all week, as well as Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the team, and I think that was what was so special today was to go into Victory Lane," Gordon said.
Gordon even went as far to apologize to his team before Sunday's race for his actions and for putting them in the position that he did.
And in a bit of irony, the man Gordon fended off for the win was the same man he sparred with at Phoenix. However, there was none of the ugliness from a week ago, as the two raced each other clean – though hard – throughout the 400-mile event.
"I thought a little bit more about him when I was passing him for what could possibly have been for the lead because Alan told me that if this thing goes green, you're racing the 15," Gordon said. "So we came into some lap traffic, and I could tell he was pretty anxious and running hard. He knew the same thing that I knew. I was able to get to the outside of him and get by him.
"After it was over, I thought, ‘You know, wow, I can't believe that we just finished first and second after what happened last week.'"