Jeff Gordon couldn’t have scripted his final season much better.
It might have been a mediocre season for most of the year, but Gordon and his No. 24 Chevrolet team are writing a storybook ending.
Gordon assured himself of being one of four drivers in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22 by winning the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
“This is the sweetest, most amazing feeling. I am so proud of this team,” Gordon said after his first win of the season and his ninth career victory at Martinsville. “We seized an opportunity right there.”
Yes, Gordon did. And he knows how fortunate this victory is given how it essentially fell in his lap.
This is the sweetest, most amazing feeling. I am so proud of this team. We seized an opportunity right there.
Jeff Gordon after Sunday’s victory
It’s hard to imagine a win by Gordon in his farewell season being overshadowed, but big-time drama unfolded with 46 laps remaining that helped pave the way for Gordon’s victory.
An old beef had to be settled, in Matt Kenseth’s mind, and it altered not only the race but possibly the championship picture.
With 46 laps to go, Kenseth intentionally wrecked race leader Joey Logano in Turn 1, ending Logano’s chances at winning the race and putting a significant dent in his title hopes.
Logano had been pegged as the team to beat for the championship, entering the first stop in the Eliminator Round after sweeping all three races in the Contender Round.
It’s just a complete coward move. Just complete coward. It’s a chicken you-know-what move to take out the leader when your race is done. We’ll move on.
Joey Logano after being taken out by Matt Kenseth
Logano carried that momentum into taking the pole for Sunday’s race, and appeared to be on track for another win. Logano found himself in the lead with 46 laps to go, which is about the time Kenseth decided to settle their on-going feud by sending Logano’s No. 22 Ford hard into the wall.
The crowd loved it and cheered it on, as Logano has become one of the heels in the sport.
“It’s just a complete coward move,” said Logano, who was trying to become the first driver to win four consecutive races since Jimmie Johnson did it in 2007.
“Just complete coward. It’s a chicken you-know-what move to take out the leader when your race is done. We’ll move on.”
Logano is now on the ropes to reach the next round. He essentially has to win one of the next two races, at Texas or Phoenix, to lock a spot in the final four.
Kenseth, though, had little remorse about his retaliation move. After all, he felt Logano ended his championship aspirations during a late-race wreck two weeks ago at Kansas.
“Some days you’re the bat. Some days you’re the ball,” said Kenseth, who was parked for the remainder of the race by NASCAR. “It’s never fun when you’re the ball.”
Logano likely has to win one of the next two races, at Texas or Phoenix, to secure a spot in the final four.
Kenseth went on to explain the accident, saying: “Just got into Turn 1 and couldn’t get it to turn and ran Joey over. So … disappointing ending for sure.”
Well, disappointing for Kenseth and Logano. The crowd, however, went wild during the wreck and then were even more enthusiastic when Gordon took the checkered flag.
After the Kenseth-Logano incident, Gordon emerged in the lead and proved to be the team to beat once the race resumed after being red-flagged for 12 minutes, 46 seconds.
Gordon took the lead for good on Lap 479, and held off a hard-charging Jamie McMurray on the final laps to secure the win on the iconic short track known as “The Paperclip.”
“What a battle. What a team,” Gordon said. “People don’t give this team enough credit and we seized an opportunity right there. I don’t think this opportunity would present itself the next couple of weeks. We’re going to take advantage of this one and I don’t have to worry about that.”
AAA Texas 500
At Texas Motor Speedway
1 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5