Jeff Gordon posted a strong 2nd place effort at Martinsville Speedway to begin the Eliminator Round of the Chase, but felt a mistake cost him the prospect of finishing one spot higher. Gordon had the race lead in the mid-stages when a pit road speeding penalty sent him back to 30th place. He recovered to post his 3rd top-3 finish in the last 4 races at Martinsville. Gordon leads the NASCAR standings by 3 points. Gordon started 13th and gained a spot before the first caution waved on lap 4. He took 11th from Ryan Newman on lap 12 and entered the top-10 with a pass on Carl Edwards on lap 14. The second caution came on lap 16. Gordon advanced to 7th by lap 25 after passing Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. He entered the top-5 on lap 36 with moves around Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. His forward advancement continued as he took 3rd from Matt Kenseth on lap 44. Two laps later he moved into the runner-up spot by passing Denny Hamlin. A caution on lap 75 brought the first round of pit stops. He restarted 2nd and took the race lead from Jamie McMurray on lap 85. Gordon led through the next caution on lap 160 when Kasey Kahne lost patience with Brian Vickers. Pit stops ensued with Gordon exiting pit road with the lead. The next caution came on lap 188 and pit stops followed. Gordon easily held the lead through the round of stops, but was penalized for speeding on pit road. He restarted in 30th place on lap 205. A quick caution allowed Gordon to move up to 24th place on lap 215. He re-entered the top-20 on lap 222 after Vickers exacted revenge on Kahne for the earlier incident by spinning the #5 car into the wall.
Gordon stayed on the track and restarted in 14th place on lap 227. After Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick made contact to bring out a caution, Gordon moved to 10th place. At the halfway point, Gordon ran in 9th place. A debris caution on lap 255 brought the leaders to pit road. Several drivers stayed on the track and Gordon restarted in 13th. He bided his time after the restart and re-entered the top-10 on lap 270. He ran in 7th place when the third act of the Vickers/Kahne trilogy brought out the caution on lap 277. Gordon came to pit road and restarted in 13th place due to some drivers staying out. He quickly moved back into the top-10 on fresher tires and ran 7th on lap 290. Gordon then passed Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola to move back into the top-5 on lap 293. A caution for Danica Patrick’s spin on lap 296 brought some drivers to pit road. Gordon stayed out and restarted in 2nd place along side Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The outside line hindered Gordon on the restart and he dropped to 3rd on lap 305 behind Earnhardt Jr and Kurt Busch. He took the runner-up spot from Earnhardt Jr on lap 319 and closed in on Busch for the race lead. He worked his way around Busch to take the lead on lap 335. Denny Hamlin closed in on Gordon and took the lead on lap 359. A caution for Reed Sorenson’s wall contact on lap 387 brought the leaders to pit road. Gordon held 2nd through the round of stops. He slipped to 3rd on the restart after Tony Stewart went by. Gordon regrouped and took 2nd from Stewart on lap 401. He closed within a car length of Hamlin prior to a debris caution on lap 417. Pit stops followed with Gordon exiting in 3rd place behind Clint Bowyer and Earnhardt Jr. He was able to move ahead of Hamlin and had the inside line for the restart. On the restart on lap 433, Gordon used the inside line to take 2nd from Earnnhardt Jr. A caution for a multi-car crash triggered by Brad Keselowski’s transmission failure red-flagged the race with 64 laps to go. The melee collected Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Danica Patrick, and Martin Truex. After nearly a half hour delay, the race resumed with a restart with 58 to go. Gordon fell back on the outside line and ran 5th with 55 to go.
Gordon took 4th from Hamlin with 51 to go, and passed Joey Logano for 3rd with 45 to go. He passed Bowyer for 2nd with 34 to go and closed in on Earnhardt Jr for the victory. A caution with 11 laps to go for a crash involving Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Larson slowed the field. Gordon came to pit road for tires and restarted in 7th place. On the restart with 5 to go, he quickly moved to 3rd. He took 2nd from Tony Stewart with 3 to go. GOrdon closed in on Earnhardt Jr on the white flag lap, but couldn’t catch his Hendrick Motorsports teammate for the win.
Gordon played from behind in the second half of the race after a pit road speeding penalty. However, the outside line on a late race restart ultimately proved to be his downfall.
“A 1-2 finish [for Hendrick Motorsports]. We know how much the fans love to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win. They certainly got that today. He did a great job, but for all of those at Hendrick Motorsports that lost friends and family members, people that paid an important in Hendrick Motorsports and in this sport. A 1-2 finish is the best way you can pay tribute to them. It was great effort today. I’m proud of the guys. We got behind. I made a big mistake on pit road and was speeding. I knew it. We had to go to the back and claw our way back up in there, so that was a great comeback and a total team effort by everybody.”
WE KNOW A WIN MOVES YOU ON, BUT YOU SAID YOU NEEDED TO COME OUT OF HERE WITH A GOOD POINTS DAY
“The good news is that a Chase driver did not win the race today. Finishing second isn’t as big of a deal today, it’s actually really a good finish and good points day compared to if a Chase driver would have won. I wanted to get that win to get ourselves locked in, but we have two more great tracks coming up and yeah, today was a great overall effort by the whole team.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT TODAY?
“It was a great performance and a really good finish. I about threw this one away on pit road. I made a mistake there and was speeding. So that’s a great comeback. I thought we had the car to beat. There at the end we were kind of stuck on the outside on one of those restarts and those guys got out there on us. At that point it was just about clawing our way back up there and me and Denny (Hamlin) were having a great battle and then late pit stops and those last couple of laps were just wild. Congratulations to (race winner) Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. That’s the best way you can possibly pay tribute to those we lost here 10 years ago. To have a 1-2 finish is pretty awesome. I would have love to have gotten that win to move on to Homestead, but this is surely a great start for us. We’ve got two more great tracks coming up. I’m really proud of him and I know that means a lot to him and all his fans here.”
source: Jeff Gordon Online
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