If you are a sports fan, this is why you watch the sport you love. The 2015 season has been the farewell tour for one Jeff Gordon, but on Sunday in Martinsville he may have picked up the most meaningful win of his 24-year career.
Elite athletes step up when the pressure is on. They always have they always will. Heading into the 500-lap race Gordon was an eight-time winner at the famed speedway. Sunday, after a late-race incident involving Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth, Gordon found himself in the lead and was able to go on to win his for the ninth time at Martinsville and for the first time this season to advance into the championship race at Homestead in the final race of his career.
“We’re going to Homestead,” Gordon said out of pure joy. “This is the sweetest and most amazing feeling. I am so proud of this team. What an incredible battle that was. We just stuck with it all day long and I was just trying to protect those rear tires. It all fell into our lap with the incident with the No. 22 and a couple of those other guys. I give Jamie McMurray a lot of credit for racing me hard and clean in the final laps, it’s never over here. People don’t give this team enough credit, and we seized an opportunity right there. I don’t think that opportunity would have presented itself in the next couple of weeks, but it sure was nice to take advantage of that and not have to worry about that.”
This was Gordon’s 93rd- career Cup Series win and with his opportunities dwindling down to win in his final season, the No. 24 team stepped up and advanced into the championship race on Nov. 22 in southern Florida.
McMurray typically runs well at Homestead and on Sunday it was much of the same. The driver of the No. 1 tied his career-best finish of second at Martinsville which he did back in 2004. McMurray had the opportunity to go for the win and pass Gordon, but never made the bump-and-run move for the victory.
Denny Hamlin had to overcome two pit road speeding penalties and a spin on Lap 114 to come home in the third position. The spring winner at Martinsville saw much of the race in the mid-teens to upper twenties, but a caution with 50 laps to go, Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger stayed out on the race track to try to steal the win away.
The defending winner of the fall race at the paperclip Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished in the fourth position. Earnhardt had a decent car all race long, but never saw the track position to truly show what his Hendrick engine had.
Kyle Busch finished in the position and he was the second-best Chase finisher on the long afternoon of racing. However, with the way that the first two rounds started off for the No. 18 team this is a much better start to try and advance into the championship race.
Even as competitive as Busch is, he was in awe of what had just happened on the race track with Gordon picking up the win and racing for a championship.
“There were a lot of good drivers here before Jeff Gordon, but Jeff Gordon had his hay day here for sure and it’s really cool to see his hay day continued into his last season,” Busch said of Gordon. “That puts him onto Homestead and a guy that we will have to battle for sure.”
Martin Truex, Jr. finished just outside of the top-five and led 27 laps on the afternoon. The single car Furniture Row Racing team has proved the critics wrong throughout the Chase and is currently sitting nine points ahead of the cutoff to the championship round.
“Our car was really good on the short runs and really terrible on the long runs all day,” Truex said. “We really fought it all day long and couldn’t keep the tires on it on the long run. All in all it was what we needed to do here. Hopefully we can take this No. 78 to Texas and something for the win and see if we have something for them.”
Kevin Harvick had an adventurous day to say the least. He led 38 laps on Sunday, but made contact with another competitor on pit road which resulted in the No. 4 car making another pit stop under the caution and having to come from the back to come home eighth.
“We ran really well today,” Harvick said. “We got ran into coming out of the pits and I couldn’t really tell how bad it was, but the panic in Rodney (Childress, crew chief) voice and luckily a caution came out because I saw the smoke coming out of the left front tire. All in all, it was a good day, and there were a lot of chaotic things going on the race track but we just needed to finish that one where we running when not having a chance to win.”
In a race that saw a lot of drama and 18 cautions, the remaining Chase drivers were in the middle of much of the controversy.
On a restart with 65 laps to go, Logano and Brad Keselowski were on the front row with Kurt Busch and Kenseth in row two. Keselowski was allowing Logano to get down in front of him so the Team Penske duo could lead the field. When Kenseth put his nose to the outside of Keselowski, things went downhill quick for Team Penske.
The No. 2 squeezed the No. 20 into the wall and Kenseth spun into the middle of the field and clipped the No. 41 of Busch who got airborne and hit the inside. This put the Chase teams of Keselowski and Busch in the garage a number of laps downs and finish 32nd and 34th respectively.
On the resuming restart Logano led the field and was catching in on slower traffic, the first being Kenseth. The No. 20 put his car behind the No. 22 and put Logano into the fence while leading.
Logano led 207 laps on Sunday and was looking to record his fourth-consecutive victory and the first since Jimmie Johnson in 2007. That streak was put to an end and now Logano sits 28 points behind the Chase cutoff with just two races remaining in the Eliminator Round. Logano has one-career win at the tracks of Texas and Phoenix and is more than likely going to have to win in order to compete for the championship.
At the Kansas Speedway two weeks back, Logano spun Kenseth out with four laps to go while racing for the win and virtually ending Kenseth’s shot at a championship this season.
The Cup Series will move one step closer as they battle at the Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 8. Keselowski, Busch and Logano will all need to finish well, and it is an opportunity for one of the three to snag a spot in the championship race at Homestead.