(*Editor’s note: I write game recap articles, or as those of us in the sportswriting business say, “gamers”, all the time in my work for the Anderson Independent-Mail. However, that experience is currently limited to football, basketball, baseball, and softball, so I decided to, for the experience and practice of doing so, write an article on today’s NASCAR race at Martinsville. Here is the result, and I felt it appropriate to publish here.)
As Jeff Gordon’s career races into the twilight, the four-time Sprint Cup champion won Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville by literally doing just that.
Gordon, in his final season of Sprint Cup competition, collected his 93rd career Sprint Cup Series victory by outracing the competition in near darkness. With the win, Gordon earned a spot in the Championship Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, November 22 at Homestead, as he tries to win his fifth title, and first since 2001.
The win was the first of Gordon’s farewell season, ending a 39-race winless streak, and was a wildly popular victory among the fans at the Virginia short track. This wasn’t the first time Martinsville fans have seen Gordon win, as he won the trophy’s signature grandfather clock trophy for a ninth time, the most among active drivers.
Gordon took the lead with 22 laps to go, passing A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger had taken the lead from Denny Hamlin at lap 460 of the 500-lap race, after both had opted not to pit during a caution flag, just after Gordon had taken the lead at lap 454.
After the race’s 18th caution came out with six to go, Gordon restarted side-by-side with eventual runner-up Jamie McMurray, but never lost the lead and cleared McMurray with two to go, finishing off an emotional win, which was one of the biggest of his storied career.
“What an incredible battle that was,” Gordon said. “We just stuck with it, all day long, just trying to protect those rear tires, and it all fell in our lap.”
Gordon inherited the lead with 46 laps to go, when Matt Kenseth, who was several laps down, wrecked race leader Joey Logano, who was going for his fourth straight win, heavily damaging both cars.
The incident appeared to be Kenseth’s retribution for being spun by Logano with five to go two weeks ago at Kansas while racing for the win. Kenseth, who was eliminated from the Chase last week, said afterward the incident was due to a right-front tire problem, but was parked by NASCAR for the rest of the race, although that likely didn’t affect his finishing position of 38th.
“I think what happened at Kansas is a completely different deal,” Logano said. “We were racing for the win and (Kenseth) blocks you a few times and then we raced hard and he blocked me the last time and we spun out. Here it was just a complete coward move, especially for a championship race car driver and race team. Just a complete coward. I don’t have anything else to say.”
NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell addressed the situation afterward, showing NASCAR’s displeasure at the incident.
“What was disappointing today would be the incident we’re referring to where (Kenseth) is not competing for a win, (and) in fact, is several laps down when that happened. In our mind, that’s a little bit different that two drivers really going after it coming out of turn four for a win, versus what happened tonight.”
NASCAR didn’t immediately penalize Kenseth on Sunday night, as has often been the case in similar situations, as O’Donnell said NASCAR will continue to analyze what happened into the early part of this week.
“There’s still a lot to digest from what happened tonight,” O’Donnell said. “We’ll have some additional conversations, and probably come out with something, if there is anything to discuss, on Tuesday.”
Logano led nine times for a race-high 207 laps, which is why Gordon saw the incident between Logano and Kenseth as a turning point.
“Yeah, we had a few things that fell in our favor,” Gordon said. “But you’ve got to be there and be ready for that moment when it comes, and we were.”
Kenseth’s car was damaged from a previous crash at lap 436, when Brad Keselowski clipped Kenseth while racing for second position on a restart, and Kenseth’s Toyota spun, collecting Kurt Busch. Keselowski had led 143 laps, and all three drivers were threats to win before the accident.
Gordon led 35 laps, the fourth-highest total in the race, but after running no lower than 10th all day was at the front when it counted most, and now won’t have to reach Homestead on points.
“People don’t give this team enough credit, and we seized an opportunity right there,” Gordon said. “I don’t think this opportunity will present itself the next couple of weeks, but it sure is nice to have taking advantage of this one and not have to worry about that.”
After Gordon, the next highest-finishing Chase drivers were Kyle Busch in fifth and Martin Truex Jr. in sixth. Kevin Harvick finished eighth, and Carl Edwards finished 14th, while the accident involving Keselowski and Kurt Busch relegated them to finishes of 32nd and 34th, respectively. Logano finished 37th after the contact with Kenseth.
Hamlin finished third, while Allmendinger, after losing the lead to Gordon, fell back to 11th.
The race to join Gordon in the four-driver championship battle at Homestead has Kyle Busch and Truex both nine points above the cut-off, with Harvick seven points clear. The first driver out would be Edwards, seven points behind fourth, with Keselowski 24 points back of Harvick, Kurt Busch 26 markers back, and Logano, who entered Martinsville the championship favorite, 28 points behind the cut-off.
There are two races left in the eight-driver Eliminator Round, with next week’s event at Texas, and the season’s penultimate race at Phoenix, before the season finale at Homestead.
After the win, Gordon showed his excitement in advancing to the final Chase race at Homestead, pointing to the possibility of a Hollywood ending to his illustrious career.
“This has turned into a fairy tale year,” Gordon said. “I just can’t believe it. Homestead is going to be an unbelievable weekend, and we’re so focused.”