It was a journey Jeff Gordon had made quite frequently throughout his acclaimed career -- 88 to be exact, third most only behind Richard Petty and David Pearson. Yet this time, the 89th, was a different voyage to Victory Lane with the ramifications more pronounced.
Gordon fended off a charging Kevin Harvick to win Saturday night at Kansas Speedway. In other seasons an ordinary May win wouldn't elicit a response where an inspired Gordon screams to his crew about the pressure being alleviated.
"What a huge weight lifted off this team's shoulders," Gordon said as crossed the start/finish line.
But this is no ordinary season, and Saturday's triumph carried added importance.
Although Gordon entered Kansas atop the Sprint Cup standings, what he didn't have was a win this season. And in year where the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup will predominantly consist of drivers who win during the regular season, Gordon's stature as the points leader was a bit hollow.
"It just feels so good to get that first win of the season," Gordon said. "Especially this year with the points structure and how close we've been so many weekends."
A fact Gordon knew all too well, as he continually mentioned in recent weeks how he would gladly trade his points lead for a pair of victories.
Now no bartering is necessary. Gordon holds both the championship lead and has a win to his name; a spot in the Chase virtually cemented. And with security comes the knowledge that there will be no mad scramble to qualify for the Chase that has defined Gordon each of the past two years.
There will be no Hail Mary like there was in 2012, when the No. 24 team had to overcome a lap deficit and rely on flawed pit strategy by the competition just to qualify. Or like last year, when it took an unprecedented edict from NASCAR CEO Brian France for Gordon to obtain Chase eligibility.
Barring something catastrophic, one of the 16 playoff spots is earmarked for Gordon.
Naturally, as it frequently does due to his advancing age and is willingness to concede that his career is drawing to a close, there were questions Saturday night of how much longer Gordon wants to continue to drive.
Any discussion about possible retirement plans was put on hold in the jubilation. After all, why concern oneself about the future when the present is so enjoyable.
"I just feel so competitive out there, and that makes me feel young again," Gordon said. "When the cars are that good, my back just doesn't seem to hurt as much. The whole retirement thing I think is thrown out there too much -- and I'm probably somewhat to blame -- but there's no secret, I'm going to be 43 this year, but, man, if 43 is like this, I can't wait for 50.
"I'm having a good time. That's why I feel young, because I'm just having a great time."
Making no secret of his desire to win another championship, one that can be enjoyed and remembered by his two young children, Gordon is in the midst of a resurgence. Giving hope the quest for a fifth series title that at times seemed like a pipe dream, is in fact very much a realistic possibility.