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Jeff Gordon started Sunday afternoon's Ford EcoBoost 400 from pole position and immediately seemed determined to prove that he should still be in title contention if there were any justice in the world, as he led for 161 of the 267 laps that followed.

Gordon had been knocked out of the Chase the previous week by just a single point when Ryan Newman had achieved a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, but for long stretches of the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway he was the equal of if not demonstrably better than all four of the remaining title contenders.

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Having won pole position on Friday for the first time at the 1.5-mile oval, he started in the lead and each time someone managed to get in front of him for brief spells he was able to pick up the pace and wrest back control not too long after and seemed rarely out of the top four.

Unfortunately all that hard work ended in disappointment. A decision to come down pit road in the final ten laps lost him all that track position and left him mired in 26th place; despite having fresh tyres, there was only enough time to recover to tenth place by the time the race finished, putting him one place behind his team mate Jimmie Johnson at the line.

It was the final disappointment in a season that had looked so promising: the four time champion notched up four wins in 2014, his best campaign since 2007, and for many he was the favourite to collect this year's title. Being pipped to the line at Martinsville by another Hendrick team mate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. cost him his first shot of an automatic transfer to the season finale, and spinning out after contact with Brad Keselowski at Texas which led to a post-lane pit lane brawl between Gordon's Hendrick pit crew and their Penske counterparts, with four of the Hendrick squad suspended by NASCAR for the season finale.

"The last two weeks have been tough because we lost crew members from the Texas incident, guys that are a part of our race team that have been there all year long that aren't at the racetrack," said Gordon. "I mean, just that mood in itself at Phoenix was unique and different, and it's still there. But I will say that as the week has gone on and you get closer to going to the racetrack, I think then you start switching your mindset and your focus."

The Texas result meant that even clinching second place the following week at Phoenix wasn't enough to keep him in the Chase, after Newman's last corner barge past Larson left him him short in the points to make the finale.

"It hit me hard when I crossed the line at Phoenix," Gordon admitted. "I think I was just really in disbelief for a good 24 hours that we did everything so right and didn't make it. You know, that disappointment was definitely there throughout the week ... I'm around people that are asking me about it, so you get these constant reminders.

"I think even if we [we had won] this race on Sunday, that's only going to make it hurt a little bit more in some ways because we could have won the championship if we were here," he added. "I think it's not that I'm over it yet, but I've definitely getting to the racetrack, it allows all of us to focus on what we do best, which is go and compete, and when you're finetuning the set-up of the car and making laps, especially at this place, right up an inch off the wall every lap, that takes your mind off of it."

For all that disappointment, Gordon was still broadly supportive of the new-look system brought in for this year's Chase play-offs, although he also had suggestions for some possible tweaks for future seasons based on his experiences in 2014.

"I think it's a good system, number one," he said. "I like how important it is to win, how that moves you from one round to the next.

"I would say that the one thing that I thought about and this would not have moved me to the final round, but I think it's the right thing to do and that's you have a separate points system just for the 16 and then for the 8, or the 12 and then the 8," he proposed. "I just think there's so many factors with all the other competitors out there that you should be racing those guys. You should be racing them in points, not necessarily racing them and all the other competitors out there. I think you've earned that right.

"I would like to see a few of the highest finishing, then you get 16, 15, 14, 13, but it doesn't matter if you finish 25th," he elaborated. "And that just allows you to kind of throw out one of those bad races. I think you've still got to be consistent, winning is still going to get you through, but it allows you to race those guys, not necessarily go race everybody else."

With NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France already on record as saying that he thought the new Chase had delivered beyond expectations and that he envisaged few major tweaks to the format for 2015, it could be a while before Gordon sees such ideas implemented.

In the meantime Gordon will have to be satisfied with going into the off-season having clinched sixth place in this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, finishing 13 points behind his current nemesis Brad Keselowski in the battle for the best of the rest of the former Chase contenders who didn't make it all the way to the season finale.

In the meantime, he was ruing missing out on not managing to get one last race win of the season thanks to that final pit stop call at Homestead.

"This is one of my favourite races to win, and that's because you have the longest stretch between when the next race is," he said. "You can enjoy it probably longer than any other race that we have because you end the season with it. [But] this is a tough place to win at."

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