Jeff Gordon began the final race weekend of 2012 answering questions about his actions at Phoenix International Raceway five days before. And he ended the weekend in victory lane after winning the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Of course, he was answering questions about Phoenix there too. Because, in an all-too-coincidental outcome, the driver he had his Phoenix beef with, Clint Bowyer, finished second.
In the clip that's been replayed numerous times on televisions around the country and the world and brought NASCAR (good or bad, depending on your preference) attention on mainstream news outlets all over the country, Gordon retaliated against Bowyer for contact just laps earlier, and crashed both cars in the process. That led to a melee in the pits involving both drivers' teams, Gordon hiding in a tool box next to the scrum and Bowyer sprinting from his car on pit road all the way to Gordon's hauler in search of the four-time champion.
On Friday, Gordon expressed regret for letting his emotions get the best of him at Phoenix, and he and Bowyer both kept level heads during the 400 mile race. While they raced near each other for a significant portion of the race, there were no incidents nor sprints on Sunday.
"Can you believe that?" Gordon asked in victory lane when talking about finishing 1-2 with Bowyer. "You know, I mean there was one restart where I had Joey (Logano) and maybe even Aric (Almirola) and Clint right there surrounding me and, you know, we -- you know, that thing is going to work itself out some way through racing and, you know, I felt terrible about how I went about it and still regret the way I went about it but you know what, I can't take it back. What we can do is look forward and race guys as hard and clean as we possibly can and, you know, this is a great way to get some positive things going because this year has been real up and down. This awesome to have my family here in victory lane."
Logano and Almirola were caught up as collateral damage in the conflict between Bowyer and Gordon.
Kyle Busch led the race's highest number of laps and Martin Truex Jr. was hot on his tail most of the day, but Gordon was never far behind. While he hadn't led a lap until he took the lead for the first and final time, it certainly wasn't a "Where did he come from?" moment.
The catalyst for Gordon's win was a pit stop on lap 159 after the caution flag flew for Ricky Stenhouse's crash on lap 154. That was the race's final caution flag, and it allowed Gordon to make it the rest of the way on fuel on one more stop.
As the laps started to tick down, Busch and Truex were ahead of Gordon like they had been for most of the race. But they didn't pit during the caution for Stenhouse's crash like Gordon did. They needed a caution flag to fill up their gas tanks and stay near the front of the field.
Truex then brushed the wall while in hot pursuit of Busch and started to fade. Busch never got his caution flag. Gordon took the lead with 13 laps to go and kept a significant advantage over Bowyer, who never got close enough to entertain thoughts of revenge for what happened a week ago.
However, had the opportunity presented itself, it might not have been in Bowyer's best interests. Thanks to Jimmie Johnson's mechanical troubles, Bowyer's second place finish meant he jumped Johnson in the points standings to second, 39 points behind Keselowski and a point ahead of Johnson.
Thanks to his win, Gordon finishes the season in 10th place in the standings, four points ahead of Truex, and gets the final spot at the Sprint Cup Series banquet.