Martinsville Wrap-Up: Jeff Gordon Wins As Chase Is All Tied Up
Jeff Gordon was a late entry into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he's certainly making the most of the opportunity.
That culminated Sunday afternoon, as the Hendrick Motorsports driver scored his eighth win at Martinsville Speedway, the 88th of his illustrious career.
Gordon was a contender for much of the afternoon, but the No. 24 Chevrolet came to life late in the race. Taking the lead from Matt Kenseth with 21 laps to go, Gordon navigated heavy traffic and caught a break as the race ended under green flag conditions.
"Man, it's hard to top what it feels like to win," Gordon said. "Especially when you've been through all of what that this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet team has been through. I'm just so proud of them for never giving up. We've show it all year long. We've been through a lot, but boy, this is making it all worth it. To be able to get a huge win here at Martinsville for points, for the Manufacturer's Championship, for all the Hendrick family and those that were lost several years ago; seeing Rick (Hendrick) here means a lot to all of us."
With the win, Gordon jumped two spots in the Chase standings to third, now 27 points out of the lead.
A popular win, Gordon took time after visiting with the NASCAR Victory Lane crew to shake hands with fans in the grandstands.
While Gordon was celebrating the win, Kenseth was wondering what could have been.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver trailed Jimmie Johnson in the Chase standings heading into one of Johnson's best tracks, but when the checkered flag fell, Kenseth had led the most laps and finished ahead of the No. 48.
"Whenever your team puts you in front for that last run and you're out there leading, you get beat, you're always a little bit disappointed," Kenseth said. "I just got beat by, honestly, experience and a better driver of this track. I was hesitant to change my line and do things he was doing becasue what I was doing got me there and just got too tight at the end, which I wish I could do over.
Despite Johnson's incredible stats at Martinsville, Kenseth said he felt really good going into the day. That certainly showed as Kenseth led a race-high 202 of 500 laps, earning him the bonus points for leading the most laps.
"Overall what a great weekend," he said. "I really felt like if we came out of here in the lead or tied or close to it, I really felt like we got what it takes to race in the last three races. I feel like when my team is at its best and we do everything right, I feel like we can race anybody at these next three tracks. I feel good about that. Anything can happen, but man, we're in it, and we're going to three really good tracks, so hopefully we can perform here the next three weeks and have a race (for the championship)"
As Kenseth was debriefing from his near victory, Jimmie Johnson was busy talking down a worked-up Greg Biffle on pit road. Racing hard in the final segments of the race, Biffle was not pleased with how the five-time champion raced him.
For Johnson, however, the track that was supposed to be one of his best chances to pull away with the Chase lead turned into an equalizer for Kenseth.
"It's a great battle with the No. 20 car (Kenseth) and the No. 24 (Gordon) is really showing that he wants to be part of this deal as well; and there are some other guys back there kind of close," Johnson said. "So, it's going to be a dogfight to the end. The way that I would want to go racing for a championship, and I know that's exactly what the fans want to see. We'll keep digging hard. We had a decent day today and see if we can't get this Lowe's Chevrolet to Victory Lane here soon."
While Jeff Gordon made strides in inserting himself into the championship picture, there's little doubt the Chase will come down to a fierce battle between Kenseth and Johnson over the next three weeks.
Just ask defending champ Brad Keselowski.