For the eighth time in nine years, Jeff Gordon is in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
And all he had to do to qualify for the playoffs on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway was stage an improbable comeback from being a lap down and find a way to race his way back to the front to finish second while edging Kyle Busch for the final wild card spot by a mere three points.
In other words, it was just how he planned it.
"Went from last week being the most disappointed I've ever been to finish second to the most excited I've ever been to finish second," Gordon said. "... It was amazing. I still can't believe we actually did it."
Earlier in the evening, Gordon's Chase hopes looked like they simply weren't meant to be. Starting second, he quickly dropped back through the field due to an ill-handling Chevrolet – eventually falling a lap behind the leaders.
But with the same attitude and resolve that allowed his No. 24 team to overcome countless hurdles throughout the 2012, Gordon rallied. Crew chief Alan Gustafson diagnosed and solved the handling issues which plagued the car, while Gordon deftly picked his way through traffic.
"We just flat-out missed the setup at the beginning," Gordon said. "Luckily, Alan and the engineers got together and found the tools that we could utilize to make the car better. The biggest thing is that rear bar; we just had to get rid of it. We did that. We cut the chain. Our car really started coming to us right then. We finally got some drive-off."
Now, Gordon is somewhat miraculously in the Chase and competing for his fifth series championship – an idea which seemed preposterous at various points throughout the season.
"You can look at this race," Gordon said. "All the things that have gone for us this year, everything went right for us tonight. ... I know how proud Rick (Hendrick) is to have all four teams into this Chase. That was a big goal of ours. Pretty amazing to know we accomplished that."
Adding another layer to what was a remarkable evening was that even as Gordon was staging his comeback, his team never clued him in as to where he was running points-wise. Gordon was under the impression that he still had more work to do – even as he was running third with 10 laps to go.
"I didn't know what position we were in," Gordon said. "I didn't know what was going on. I knew that it looked like some guys were staying out because of how slow they were running. Alan got pretty animated when he said, ‘You got to get the 55, you have to get the 55,' and there were 10 to go.
"I kind of had an idea that that would get us in, but he didn't ever say it."