The sun had long set Martinsville Speedway on Sunday as track officials began assembling the makeshift Gatorade Victory Lane at the start/finish line for one of the best celebrations of any win in the history of the Sprint Cup Series. Jeff Gordon became the first of the remaining eight Chase drivers to punch his ticket into the final race of the season at Homestead Miami with the opportunity to win the title.
Gordon, who is in his final year as a driver, entered the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 as one of the favorites because he already owned eight of those famous Martinsville grandfather clocks that go to the race winner. He also was the undisputed veteran at the track as his 45 career starts dwarf Kurt Busch’s 30 starts as the closest driver to take the green flag at Martinsville.
Joey Logano looked as if he was going to be standing in the path of Gordon’s emotional victory lane, but Matt Kenseth changed all of that when he took out the Penske Racing driver on lap 454 of the 500-lap event. Kenseth had been involved in a wreck earlier in the race with Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski that left his Toyota with heavy damage that took away any chance he had of winning.
Kenseth was limping around the track several laps down when race leader Logano came up behind him and attempted to make a pass and suddenly he was hit in the left rear quarter panel. The contact sent both drivers into the outside wall and immediately raised questions that the contact may have been a payback from Kenseth for contact between the two at Kansas that cost him a win.
The contact left Logano with a 37th-place finish and snapped his three-race winning streak, leaving him eighth in the standings, 28 points out of the fourth position that is the last transfer spot to move on to Homestead. He was not the only driver to leave Martinsville knowing that it would probably take a win in the next two races at Texas and Phoenix in order to transfer. Kurt Busch was also involved in an accident that left him in seventh (-26) and Keselowski in sixth (-26).
Carl Edwards in fifth is seven points behind Harvick, who now sits in the fourth and final transfer spot, but with two races left, Gordon is the only driver that can go to both Texas and Phoenix without the pressure of knowing that he must race his way in. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are only two points ahead of Harvick so winning may definitely be the easier path to Homestead instead of having to rely on your position in the points. All these drivers have to do is look back to last year’s Eliminator Round when Gordon posted two second-place finishes at Martinsville and Phoenix, but because of a poor finish at Texas, he failed to become one of the four drivers to transfer to the final race.
Gordon’s win will now allow crew chief Alan Gustafson and all of the vast resources of Hendrick Motorsports to focus on the car they will be taking to Homestead. Gordon now is the only Hendrick driver still in the Chase and it could be that his three teammates might be in a position to help him in his title run in the season’s final race.
Sometimes an athlete is not able to end his career the way he may have wanted, but it will not be the case for Gordon who is already a four-time series champion. He had entered Martinsville winless but left with the fan’s chant of “Homestead” ringing in his ears as it will go down as one of the most popular wins in the history of the sport. Now all that is left is for us to wait and see after the checkered flag at Homestead if Jeff Gordon can put the exclamation point on his hall-of-fame career.
. CHASE NOTES: Teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have the fewest top-10 finishes (five) of any of the remaining Chase drivers at Texas. Kevin Harvick leads all Chase drivers with a 12.2 finishing average, but Carl Edwards leads all drivers with three Texas wins.
Race Preview Event: AAA Texas 500 Track: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad oval, 24o of banking in the turns) Date: Nov. 8, 2 p.m. TV: NBC Radio: PRN Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson