AT THE end of 2019, Richie Stanaway had given up Supercars.
He was performing poorly with Garry Rogers Motorsport, he had aggravated a previous neck injury and missed seven races, and was stood down for missing an autograph signing, before ultimately retiring from the sport in November of that year.
But, unbeknown to him at the time, Stanaway's Supercars career was not over and he made a surprise return to Bathurst last year, as a wildcard entry, co-driving with fellow New Zealander Greg Murphy.
He finished 11th, but it was the spark Stanaway needed to revitalise his Supercars career.
He ultimately partnered up with Shane van Gisbergen for the endurance races for 2023 and finished third at last month's Sandown 500, before capping off the ultimate comeback at Bathurst on Sunday, claiming his first win at Mount Panorama.
Speaking to the media after Sunday's famous win, Stanaway admitted it was a 'pretty rough time' away from Supercars.
"If you asked me a couple of years ago that I would be here having won Bathurst, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.
"It's really surreal to be here. I'm very fortunate to get that wildcard last year and that led on to the drive with Red Bull Racing.
"It's very satisfying to get things back on track and I can't wait to go racing full-time again."
Looking back at 2019 when he walked away from the sport, Stanaway said he definitely made the right decision at the time.
"I wasn't regretting it and I was enjoying my time away," he said.
"I had enough time in between stopping racing and taking on the wild card opportunity. It's just progressed from there.
"Doing the wildcard last year and the start of this year, I was still a bit unsure about coming back.
"But as the year progressed, I became more and more certain that I wanted to come back to racing full-time.
"The experience at Triple Eight racing has given me confidence, because it was pretty low after 2018 and 2019. I felt like I had forgotten to drive."
Van Gisbergen said it was great to see his fellow Kiwi back in the sport and enjoying the highs of winning the Bathurst 1000.
"To get Richie back in the sport and see his mentality and focus this year, on and off the track, it's been really cool to work with him," he said.
"In some ways, I wish he was replacing me in that car. I know that they've got a fully capable driver replacing him. I know he'll do well next year with the environment he's in."
The win for Stanaway and van Gisbergen marks the first time since 1999 that two New Zealand co-drivers have won the Bathurst 1000, when Steven Richards and Greg Murphy did so.
It was van Gisbergen's third win in four years, ahead of his full-time move to NASCAR in 2024.