Martinsville Speedway may be the smallest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour, but on Sunday, it might have played the biggest role in the Chase to the Championship.
After the dust and carnage settled with darkness looming in, shining bright in victory lane was fan favorite Jeff Gordon after winning an emotional Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, keeping his No. 24 racing up front for most of the day when suddenly the lead literally was dropped in his lap with 47 circuits to go.
After the 14th caution flag on lap 435, Logano had a great restart and was pulling away when in close quarters directly behind him coming off turn two, the car of Kurt Busch bumped Brad Keselowski, delivering a blow to Matt Kenseth and causing him to spin in tight traffic down the backstretch. He ricocheted off Busch, punching his car to the inside wall and leaving Keselowski with left front damage.
After the cleanup, the restart was green up until 47 to go when Logano came up on Kenseth to lap him. Without provocation when he got close, Kenseth tagged Logano’s left rear, driving him directly into the turn one wall and virtually annihilating his chances of making it to the Championship Round, putting him last in the standings of eight. Was it retaliation for Kansas two weeks ago when Logano spun him going for the lead, costing Kenseth advancement to the Eliminator Round?
“I think what happened at Kansas is a completely different deal,” Logano said after a visit to the infield care center. “We were racing for the win, and he blocks you a few times, and then we raced hard and he blocked me the last time and we spun out. That’s what happened there.
“Here [Martinsville] 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. It’s a chicken-you-know-what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over.”
Now Logano, going for his fourth-straight win, ultimately finished 37th and last in the Chase standings, trailing Kevin Harvick at the cutoff point in fourth by 28 points.
Kenseth was nonchalant in his comments about the accident, standing his ground and sending his message loud and clear.
“You never like to be in these situations,” Kenseth said. “They really stink, to be honest with you, but sometimes you get put in these spots, and you’ve got to try to keep respect in the garage area. You can’t get yourself run over.
“You can’t get in the Chase next year and get run over for the same reason. Like I said, hate the way it ended. Wish we were out there celebrating or having a shot for the win like we did before we got wrecked, so a disappointing day.”
Immediately after the race, NASCAR called Kenseth, crew chief Jason Ratcliff, and team owner Joe Gibbs to the sanctioning body’s transporter after the race. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said the incident will be reviewed and subsequent action, if any, will be announced later this week.
“In our estimation, that was a driver a number of laps down. We still have some things to look at, but we’re disappointed with what took place,” said O’Donnell. “We can say we did have discussions about what their viewpoint was; what happened. We heard from them and we’ll continue discussions with them this week. As we usually do, if anything is decided, it will be on Tuesday. We were disappointed with what happened tonight.
“When you look at Kansas, that was two drivers going for a win and really competing. In this instance, the driver is multiple laps down. It looked like he may have waited on the leader and we all saw what happened.”
Despite all the bickering and commotion in the garage area, it couldn’t downplay the exuberance of seeing Jeff Gordon claim his 93rd NASCAR Sprint Cup win and ninth Grandfather clock from Martinsville Speedway.
Gordon had to hold off Jamie McMurray for the final two laps after a restart, coming home victorious by .335 of a second punching his ticket to the Championship round at Homestead.
“Yeah, baby, yeah—we’re going to Homestead!” Gordon screamed after crossing the finish line ahead of McMurray. “That was huge! That was huge! Boys, I love you guys.
“That’s what I was talking about. We just keep digging and fighting. I mean, it’s not that unusual for us to win a Martinsville race. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s to be able to do it when so much is at stake, when you know that this is how you get to Homestead, to be one of those final four. For us to be a team that nobody, nobody, had picked to be able to make it to Homestead, I love that we just keep proving them wrong and finding a way to move on. I think that hopefully when we’re at Homestead, people will give us a little more respect of what kind of depth our race team has.”
Standing around waiting for the victory lane celebration to begin, Gordon thought it was a good time to pull a practical joke on his team.
“It was a joke. I’m coming back next year!” Gordon quipped about his impending retirement. “This is the sweetest, most amazing feeling. I am so proud of this team. You want to talk about holding back emotions; right now man, wow, we’re going to Homestead! I can’t believe it.”
Rounding out the top five were Gordon, McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch.
The four drivers on the plus side after the first of three Eliminator Round races are Gordon by his win, followed by Kyle Busch +9; Martin Truex, Jr. +9; and Kevin Harvick +7. Carl Edwards is fifth -7, after finishing 14th. Then came Brad Keselowski (32nd) in sixth, -24, Kurt Busch (34th) -26 in seventh and Joey Logano (37th) -28 holding down the last spot. Texas and Phoenix are the next two NSCS races to determine the Championship Round at Miami-Homestead Speedway.
The average speed for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 was 69.643 mph slowed by 18 caution flags for 109 laps. There were 21 lead changes among nine different drivers with Logano leading the most laps at 207.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series moves to the Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, Texas, for the running of the AAA Texas 500, next Sunday on November 8, airing on NBC starting on 1:30 p.m. EST.