It wasn’t an 8th career victory at Martinsville Speedway for Jeff Gordon, but a 3rd place effort was his best of the 2013 season and has propelled him to 13th in the series standings. Jimmie Johnson held off Clint Bowyer after a late race restart to claim his 8th win at Martinsville and 62nd of his career.
Gordon started 6th and took 5th from Kasey Kahne on lap 10. The first caution waved on lap 16 for Danica Patrick’s spin. On the restart, Gordon moved around Joey Logano to take 4th place. Three laps later he took 3rd from Marcos Ambrose. Gordon moved to the runner-up spot with a pass on Brian Vickers on lap 47. The second caution for Scott Speed stopping on the track brought the field to pit road on lap 71. Gordon restarted 5th after a spring rubber was pulled out of the right rear. Gordon moved to 3rd shortly after the restart on lap 78. He again took the runner-up spot and closed on race leader Jimmie Johnson after the 100-lap mark. Gordon dropped to 3rd on lap 156 when Kyle Busch went by. Jamie McMurray took 4th from Gordon on lap 165. A debris caution slowed the field and resulted in pit stops.
Gordon exited in 5th place, but quickly moved to 3rd within a lap after the restart. A multi-car incident on lap 180 resulted in more than 10 cars sustaining damage. Gordon restarted 4th on lap 197 and held the spot until the next caution on lap 240. However, Gordon made an error and overshot his pit stall. He had to back up into the stall and dropped to 14th place. At the halfway point, Gordon ran in 15th place while mired in traffic. A caution for Carl Edwards cut tire and subsequent spin brought out the caution. Gordon came to pit road for tires and a track bar adjustment. He slipped to 17th on the restart due to hitting Kurt Busch following a cut tire, Gordon sustained minor damage on the front of the #24 car. He moved up to 15th before a caution on lap 279. Pit stops ensued with Gordon opting for tires and a chassis adjustment. Gordon restarted in 14th on lap 286. Kurt Busch’s spin brought the caution on lap 291. Gordon came to pit road for tires and the team inserted a spring rubber and restarted in 19th place.
Following the restart, he steadily moved through traffic and ran 15th on lap 320. Ten laps later, he took 13th from Tony Stewart. On fresher tires, Gordon entered the top-10 with a pass on Dale Earnhardt Jr on lap 338. With 150 laps to go, Gordon ran in 9th place. A caution for Ryan Newman’s tire slowed the field. Gordon took 6th from Brad Keselowski with 125 to go and entered the top-5 with 90 to go with a pass on Kyle Busch. He took 4th from Matt Kenseth with 74 laps to go, and moved into 3rd by passing Clint Bowyer with 60 to go. Five laps later he took 2nd from Kasey Kahne. Brian Vickers’ spin with 52 to go slowed the field. Pit stops followed with Gordon restarting 2nd on lap 455. On the restart, Gordon dropped in line behind race leader Jimmie Johnson. With 35 to go, Bowyer took 2nd place from Gordon. A caution for Kurt Busch’s crash with 14 to go slowed the field and brought a red flag condition for 10 minutes.
The green flag waved with 8 laps to go with Johnson pulling ahead of Bowyer in turn one. Gordon battled side by side with Kyle Busch for half a lap before settling into 3rd place behind Bowyer. Gordon posted his best finish of the season. It was the first time since April 2006 that Gordon failed to lead a race at Martinsville.
As Gordon was making headway toward Johnson for the lead, Brian Vickers spun with 52 laps to go. The #24 was far better during the event on longer runs. The short runs toward the end of the event gave Johnson the victory.
“We just didn’t need those cautions there at the end. I made a mistake on pit road and got us way behind. What an incredible effort from this [team]. They had good pit stops and then made great adjustments. We were really tight in the middle part of the race and then, boy, that thing just took off. On the long run, I felt like we had the best car. You know those cautions are going to come out. We tried to free it up. We just didn’t free it up enough. I was just trying to get the front end to cut. I knew that we didn’t quite have it. We needed more laps there at the end. Congratulations to Jimmie — he’s so impressive here. The thing that impressed me the most is the poles. Where does that come from? He at least used to give us a shot when he’d qualify like 15th. When those guys get that #1 pit stall, they’re almost impossible to beat. We needed that 3rd place finish. I’m very proud of this team.”
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