Neither Tony Stewart nor Jeff Gordon were victorious. That's okay. Sometimes the storybook ending is just that, fiction.
On a day when Kyle Busch had the vastly superior car, it would have taken an astounding occurrence to keep the defending Sprint Cup champion from winning a second consecutive Brickyard 400 on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But years down the road when Busch's dominating performance is a footnote in the NASCAR record book, Sunday's Brickyard will be remembered for what Stewart and Gordon did postrace. Because if there is a lasting image of a race that lacked excitement and drama, it was the two beloved former champions enjoying what might be a last moment in the sun as they drove a ceremonial lap side-by-side after the checkered flag waved.
That it occurred at a track that means so much to both, a venue each grew up dreaming of racing around -- Stewart was born and still lives in Columbus, Ind., Gordon spent his teenage years in Pittsboro, Ind., -- only added to the sentiment in what is likely the final race for each in front of their fervent home state fans.
"I can say that just ranks in the top three coolest moments of my 18 years in this series," Stewart said. "To share that moment with Jeff here at Indianapolis, I don't know. I don't even have the words for it. That is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life."
The idea was Stewart's, a brainstorm as he circled under caution in the waning laps. Seeing that Gordon was near him on the track, Stewart informed his spotter to relay his plan to Gordon.
"It most likely is the last time we both get a chance to do that," Stewart said. "So, I couldn't think of a better guy to share that final lap with."
After their lap, Stewart and Gordon parked nose-to-tail on pit road -- fittingly in front of Indianapolis' famed pagoda. As Stewart leaned against his No. 14 car, Gordon walked over and the two shared a warm embrace and some kind words for each other.
"Tony and I have gone through a lot over the years, but he and I have become really good friends," Gordon said. "To see what he's done and how tough he is as a competitor; I've always know what a great guy and what a great race car driver he is, and now I know more about who Tony Stewart really is. I'm just so proud that I was able to be here and race with him in his final race."
In a weekend where the two former champions were the predominant story, how Sunday concluded was more than appropriate. That neither stood in victory lane meant nothing.
Stewart cost himself a potential top 10 when he sped on pit road, falling a lap behind. Afterward, he was apologetic.
As for Gordon, he struggled with a car he couldn't get to handle and stifling conditions that saw the ambient temperature in the mid-90s and the in-car temp 10-15 degrees higher. For a driver whose last race came eight months earlier and didn't start preparing for this mini-comeback until just last week, it was a struggle.
Nonetheless, Stewart and Gordon made the best of the circumstances. Stewart rallied to finish 11th, Gordon surged to 13th.
And when it's all said done, few will recall exactly where Stewart and Gordon ended up in the box score. In the grand scheme, it's inconsequential.
Some moments are just bigger than winning.
"Thank you to Tony Stewart," Gordon said. "What a class act he is. It meant a lot to me that he invited me to come and make that last lap with him. It was a special moment."