Jeff Gordon’s first win of his farewell season and 93rd of his career came this weekend at arguably his best track: Martinsville Speedway. He wasn’t the dominant car by any means, but he put himself in a position to win, and got it done.
“It was a joke. I’m coming back next year!” Gordon said during his post-race interview, elated with the win, vaulting him and his No. 24 team into the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“This is the sweetest, most amazing feeling. I am so proud of this team,” Gordon said. “You want to talk about holding back emotions; right now man, wow, we’re going to Homestead! I can’t believe it.”
The five-time champion only led 35 of the 500 laps, but was up front when it counted. He joined into the “Gordon! Gordon! Gordon!” chants in victory lane on the front stretch of the 0.566 mile paperclip.
Although this win was one of the more popular and important of the season, it was somewhat overshadowed by the events that transpired on lap 454 of 500 between race leader at the time, Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth. We all saw it coming, but I don’t think anybody imagined that it would come at this juncture and this way.
One word can describe what Kenseth did to Logano: payback.
Go back to lap 434, where a multi-car wreck involving Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch left the No. 20 car crippled and out of contention for the win. Kenseth was out on track, about to get lapped by Logano. Not forgetting what happened at Kansas, Kenseth hooked a hard right and sent himself and Logano into the wall hard.
The fans went nuts as the incident unfolded. But this incident raises a question that is the topic of a whole other discussion — whether NASCAR needs to intervene in the future to avoid these acts of payback. Things could get uglier, and more dangerous.
As always, there were two sides to the story.
“I think what happened at Kansas is a completely different deal,” Logano said. “We were racing for the win, and he blocks [me] 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 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.”
The driver of the No. 22 car, who came into the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 winning the past three races, ended up finishing 37th and sits last (eighth) in the Chase standings, 28 points behind fourth place (Kevin Harvick) for the final transfer spot. With the competition as high as it is, Logano will more than likely have to win a race at Texas or Phoenix if he wants to be alive for the championship at Homestead.
Kenseth’s side of the story goes a little differently.
“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 ran over. You can’t get in the Chase
next year and get ran over for the same reason. Like I said, hate the way it ended.”
Kenseth also added that he just “couldn’t get [his] car to turn and ran Joey over,” admitting that it was his fault. However, he never said it was intentional, but we all know that it was. If you think it wasn’t, you’d be lying to yourself. NASCAR called Kenseth, Jason Ratcliffe (crew chief) and team owner Joe Gibbs to the hauler to discuss what happened.
Vice president Steve O’Donnell also announced that any penalties will be discussed this week. I expect a hefty fine, probation, points docked and even a possible suspension for the usually classy Kenseth, who is being called classless by many fans and drivers.
Nonetheless, Jamie McMurray finished second and Denny Hamlin third, overcoming two pit road speeding penalties on the day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Busch, who was involved in a spin toward the middle of the race, rebounded and now sits in a transfer position to the next round.
Martin Truex Jr. came home sixth, Ryan Newman seventh, Harvick eighth (had fender damage after pit road incident and came back to salvage a top ten) and Tony Stewart grabbed a 10th place finish, as he ran well all afternoon long. Carl Edwards finished 14th after being involved in a crash early in the race and could never really recover in his No. 19 car. Brad Keselowski (32nd), Kurt Busch (34th) and Joey Logano (37th) all led laps, but couldn’t survive. But through 18 cautions, some did.
Next weekend the Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway, as many big names look to rebound. Payback could also still be on the line, and it will be exciting to see how desperate drivers will be for a win, and how they will go about their business.