Limping his beaten and battered car to the garage prematurely wasn't the storybook ending Jeff Gordon hoped for in his final Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But that's how Gordon's Brickyard 400 played out Sunday. As Clint Bowyer spun ahead of him, Gordon crashed trying to avoid Bowyer's sideways machine on Lap 50. The contact with the outside Turn 3 wall significantly damaged Gordon's car on the nose and rear-end.
"We were just racing there on a restart," Gordon said. "I was side-by-side with Kasey Kahne and I saw the No. 15 (Bowyer) get sideways and was just trying to avoid him and we both kind of got loose. I got loose. The car came around and it was just everything I could do to try to recover and not hit the No. 15. And then it spun around and got into the outside wall and tore-up the nose."
The No. 24 team attempted to make repairs on pit road, dropping Gordon three laps behind the field. He would return to the track, but with lap times well below those of the leaders, NASCAR instructed Gordon to pick up his pace, otherwise he would be black-flagged.
The damage eventually proved too severe, forcing Gordon to the garage for extensive repairs. He would return once again to competition, finishing 42nd out of 43 drivers.
Having moved to nearby Pittsboro, Ind., as a teenager, Gordon is considered an adopted Hoosier. And Indianapolis has long had special meaning for the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion, who owns a track-best five victories including last year's race.
Since announcing in January that he's retiring at the end of the 2015 season, Gordon's spoke often how much he would cherish another Indianapolis win before stepping away.
But all weekend Gordon struggled to find speed and started mid-pack after qualifying a lackluster 19th. And once the race began, his car wasn't much better.
"From the first time I came here all the way through last year and even this year the fans have been amazing, the experiences have been amazing, the wins," Gordon said. "Everything has been incredible and I feel so fortunate to have just gotten an opportunity to race here. Certainly to have five wins here is just unbelievable as well."
The decision to return to the track despite a heavily patched car wasn't a symbolic gesture just to finish. Winless on the season, Gordon is fighting to claim a Chase for the Sprint Cup wildcard spot and needs every point.
Gordon is currently ranked 13th in the 16-driver playoff field with six regular season races remaining. He is 17 points above the cutline, having lost 26 points Sunday.
"It's not the way we want our day to go here," Gordon said. "We didn't start out fantastic, but we really made some gains on the first pit stop. I feel like we were going to continue to make gains and work our way to the front. But we'll never know now. It's unfortunate way to end it."