Race Capsule: Gordon clinches Homestead berth at Martinsville ahead of Logano-Kenseth chaos
Flag to flag: At least three Chase drivers and many others in Sunday's Goody's 500 field at Martinsville Speedway are going to need some of the race sponsor. A caution-filled race that ran the full distance, but saw threats from rain all day was Team Penske's to lose and that is just what they did. Joey Logano (37th) led the opening laps under yellow as NASCAR finished drying pit road and ended up leading 207-total, but his past with Matt Kenseth (38th) caught up to him late.
Martin Truex Jr. (6th) took the lead on lap 9, just after the green flag first flew, then Logano took it again before Jeff Gordon (1st) got out front just before the lap 50 competition caution. There was constant juggling for the lead all race long, except for a long stretch after the midway point where Brad Keselowski (32nd) opened up a 10-second lead.
24 different cars got at least a piece of the wrecks that happened to bring out cautions. Chase drivers stayed out of most of the fray, however, that changed on lap 172. Kyle Busch (5th) slid in some water right next to the curbing in a turn and spun, causing a chain reaction that also collected teammate and fellow Chase driver Carl Edwards (14th). They restarted from the wreck in the back of the top 30 and Busch immediately drove back into the top 10. Edwards floundered around 19th and a lap down with a heavily damaged hood for much of the day, while the rest of the Chase drivers filled the top 10.
But circumstances changed on lap 436. During a restart, Keselowski seemed to bunch up the bottom line to let teammate Logano into the bottom line. In doing so, Keselowski got loose and up into Kenseth, spinning Kenseth's car into the right-fronts of both his own car and Chase driver Kurt Busch (34th). Keselowski lost about 10 laps in the garage and Kenseth and Ku. Busch each lost laps with their damaged cars.
Kenseth returned to the track with the Logano bearing down on him as the leader and delivered the shot heard around the NASCAR world on lap 455. As Logano passed Kenseth's wounded machine to the outside, Kenseth tagged Logano's left-rear and drilled him into the wall. NASCAR parked Kenseth and red flagged the race. Logano took repairs in the garage and eventually returned to the track to try and gain points.
With Logano and Keselowski, who teamed to lead over ? of the day's laps, out of the picture, A.J. Allmendinger (11th) took the lead after some pit stops and managed to stave off a quick Denny Hamlin (3rd). Hamlin got shuffled out of line and left the door open for Gordon to catch and then pass Allmendinger with 22 laps to go.
Gordon held the lead steady, but Sam Hornish Jr. (28th) spun with five laps to go, setting up a two-lap shootout between Gordon, Jamie McMurray (2nd), and Gordon's teammate and last year's winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (4th). Gordon was able to keep them at bay and score his 93rd-career win, his 9th at Martinsville, and his cherished spot in the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway in three weeks.
Gordon erupted along with a cheering crowd in the Martinsville darkness. Many observed that this is the most pumped up they have seen Gordon in a long time, if ever. The highly popular win could prove to be one of the most important of his storied two-plus
Gordon not only was pumped about getting the most important Martinsville grandfather clock of his career, but also that he actually won in his final season, did so at his favorite track, and did so at a place where he had been stout the last two races, only to have pit road speeding penalties set him back.
The top 10 were Gordon (first Hendrick win since Daytona in July), McMurray (solid most of the day), Hamlin (came back from multiple problems and gained several spots on final restart), Earnhardt Jr. (only a top 15 car most of the race, but rose to the top 5 after wrecks), Ky. Busch (never led, but came back from trouble to save his day and Chase), Truex Jr. (led early, strong all day), Ryan Newman (had a Newman-esque day, never led), Kevin Harvick (quiet day, but stayed out of others' troubles for a decent run), Kasey Kahne (started in back with backup car and slowly rose to a decent finish), Tony Stewart (see Kasey Kahne's day).
The Chase standings are tight amongst the top 5. Gordon is locked into Homestead. Then Ky. Busch and Truex Jr. are tied and two points ahead of Harvick. Edwards trails Harvick by seven. Then the bottom falls out: Keselowski (-24 from Harvick), Ku. Busch (-26), and Logano (-28) maybe are not technically in "must-win" mode, but considering the strength of the rest of the field, a win is probably needed to get into the elite four that go to Homestead.
This Martinsville Speedway race was just the latest example of why short tracks should comprise of more of the NASCAR schedule. There was close quarters, competitive racing - and some tempers. This win for Gordon, the conflict between Kenseth and Logano, and all of the fine racing in between made Sunday's 500-lapper one to remember.
RaceTweet: Gordon's big Martinsville win and Kenseth's wrecking of Logano draw big cheers from the crowd. Gordon's bags for Miami are packed.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Joey Logano - He started on the pole, led the most laps (207), and would have won his fourth race in a row (which hasn't been done since 2007), but Kenseth cleaned his clock (his grandfather clock at that) and ended that. Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski led 143 laps and was in good position to propel the No. 2 team forward, before his wreck with Kenseth.
North Korean Missile Dud: Clint Bowyer - Normally great on short tracks, Bowyer's day ended before halfway in the race with a wreck...and a 43rd-place finish.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Denny Hamlin - Winner of Martinsville in the spring, Hamlin started 10th, but fell back to 33rd after an early caution. Then he got damage in a wreck. But Hamlin, fresh from being dumped from the Chase at Talladega last week, forged forward. He then got shuffled back with under 20 laps to
Ghost Driver: Jimmie Johnson - Didn't lead a lap and was invisible on the track all day, while his HMS teammates ran well. After three-straight races of at least leading some laps, Johnson put a goose egg in that column at a track where he has dominated in the past. He finished 12th.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: A.J. Allmendinger - Absolutely. Allmendinger was in a position to win, leading 19 laps with 40 to go. But old tires and a hungry Gordon snuffed out a victory and a top 10 finish. He ended up 11th, but also qualified 3rd, making the great run by JTG-Daugherty
Jimmie Johnson's Golden Horseshoe: Kyle Busch - His spin through the curbing and grass could have torn the front of the No. 18 Toyota asunder. Instead, Busch cut through the field like a hot knife through butter and finished 5th. You heard it here - Kyle Busch had good luck IN the Chase!
Wheel of Misfortune: Kurt Busch - Busch got tagged by a spinning Kenseth on the lap 436 multi-car wreck. That destroyed the right-front of the No. 41 in its Monster Energy livery for the first time. Busch went from running in the top 5 the entire race to needing a Texas or Phoenix miracle to advance in the Chase.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: The event of hyper-analysis this week certainly will be Matt Kenseth's decision to use his damaged car to clean out leader Joey Logano on lap 455. As soon as Logano turned him at Kansas two weeks ago, many circled Martinsville as the place for Kenseth to pay him back. Kenseth was also mad that he got wrecked by Keselowski during the Martinsville race and had a score to settle and he did. That's racin'...kind of.
The big difference between Kenseh's revenge and Logano's move on him or some other take-outs we've seen is this: Kenseth was a lap-down car who was not even racing Logano. His one mission was to take him out. Sure, favors get repaid on short tracks and on purpose. But Kenseth did not even exact his revenge for position and very easily could have taken out other cars.
NASCAR did the right thing in parking the No. 20, but they need to do more. They already seem to be frowning on the incident, as they called the No. 20 team principals to the hauler post-race and told the media that they see this clash differently than the wreck two weeks ago. Penalties could come Tuesday and should.
Kenseth should get the same penalty at least that Jeff Gordon got for using his damaged, lapped car to wreck Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in 2012. That wreck took out other cars and caused a big pit road fracas, neither of which happened in the Kenseth wreck. But the main result was the same: a championship contender got his hopes dented by someone no longer in the fray. NASCAR docked Gordon 25 points and $100,000. Kenseth should get the same.
If Kenseth does not receive the same punishment as Gordon, then NASCAR better explain it. Maybe the punishment should be
Georgia on My Mind: Martinsville was not good for the Georgia drivers in the Sprint Cup Series race. David Ragan started 28th, got as high as 4th just after the Kenseth-Logano clash, but got spun late and finished two laps down in 25th. Kyle Fowler's second Sprint Cup start comes one year after his debut at Martinsville and he
Ragan tested a Joe Gibbs Racing car last Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He ran a No. 19 with a Hamlin windshield, so obviously an R&D ride, as he helped the team
Chase Elliott also ran the No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports R&D ride at AMS. He thinks the low-downforce package is a step in the right direction, but that NASCAR should shorten the car's side skirts and quarter panels to decrease downforce. He was running his backup car from Darlington in the test. The Xfinity Series returns to the track this weekend and Elliott, 2nd in points, is running out of time to defend his NXS championship. .
Saturday's Camping World Truck Series saw Matt Crafton go to victory lane ahead of both good and bad runs for the Georgia gang. Brandon Jones ran near the top 5 most of the day and placed 7th. John Wes Townley bounced back from being a lap down and having spun, to finish 11th. Austin Hill did a decent job and finished 19th for Empire Racing in the No. 82 truck. Korbin Forrister is sidelined from the No. 08 team, due to a lack of funding. He may not return this season.
Reed Sorenson has made some spot starts in the Sprint Cup Series in the Premium Motorsports ride, usually the No. 98.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Matt Crafton wins and gets close to the points lead at Martinsville. Custer dominant again. Peters spins three times.
Next: All three NASCAR national series run at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. The Sprint Cup Series runs Sunday at 2 p.m. on NBC and PRN. The Xfinity cars return from break Saturday on NBC and PRN at 3:30 p.m. And the NCWTS runs Friday night at 8:30 on FS1 and MRN. The dial is turned up at Texas again. Will they fight there this year like they did last? The way things shook out this week, that certainly doesn't look out of the question.