Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag after passing Matt Kenseth with 21 laps to go at the Martinsville 500 on Sunday, an event marred by 17 cautions and over 100 laps being run under yellow.
Gordon's win helped him make up some ground for the season championship, but the gains were minimal. That is due to the fact that the two Chase leaders ran strong. Kenseth finished second and Jimmie Johnson fifth.
Gordon wins. Kenseth 2nd. Johnson 5th. Kenseth-Johnson tied atop standings.— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) October 27, 2013
This creates a tie atop the standings with just three races to go.
|8||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet|
|13||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevrolet|
|16||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota|
|31||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford|
|7||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2238||-56|
Eight-time Martinsville winner Johnson entered this race with a slim four-point lead on Matt Kenseth. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were next in line at 26 points behind. Still, the way Johnson and Kenseth have been running, all eyes were on those two when it came to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Both drivers started in the front two rows. NASCAR tweeted this picture of the race start:
Here's what it looked like from the flag stand at the start of the race --> pic.twitter.com/XUSLHBtZoW— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 27, 2013
Johnson was strong from the beginning, and to help his effort, teammate Jeff Gordon worked his way into second. Making this even more ideal for Johnson is whom Gordon passed to take over second:
The pair looked like they had the cars to dominate the track. However, with an ample amount of cautions about to take over this race, we were set for a day of endless pack-jumbling and strategic pit stops.
Watching Johnson, it was easy to tell how much was at stake in this race. He was driving as aggressively as he has all year. Johnson was consistently positioned on the outside on restarts, as the outside lane was really rough Sunday—a noticeable disadvantage.
Johnson, who was not afraid to cut others off to get back on the inside, was lucky one of the interior drivers did not send him into the wall.
He certainly didn't make any friends:
Did TV show it? Biffle came up to JJ, grabbed him hard and cussed him out— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 27, 2013
Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth took a gamble with under 200 laps to go to grab fresh tires. The move cost him his place on the track, but it soon had him in a favorable position.
However, with all the cautions in this race, Kenseth couldn't get the long run he needed to really make that gamble pay off, and in the process, Johnson also replaced his tires and began to charge through the field.
Kenseth: "I just can't buy a break." With tires 20-odd laps fresher than everyone else, he needs a long green flag run. "just need 30 laps"— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) October 27, 2013
Johnson moved back into the top 10 with 140 laps to go. Meanwhile, Kenseth had reclaimed second and was chasing Clint Bowyer.
We soon had another caution, the 15th of the day, and Johnson and Kenseth both swapped tires. Kenseth began that restart in third and Johnson seventh. Soon after the restart, Kenseth had pulled out in front.
Kenseth got comfortable in the lead, and on the 98th lap, he passed Johnson for most laps led on the day, which is important due to the bonus point that comes with it.
However, this is when No. 24 began running down Kenseth.
Jeff Gordon would not relent. Entering this race 34 points back, he was yearning for the win, and with 21 laps to go, Gordon took the lead. That put Kenseth in second, with Johnson trailing in fifth.
Gordon began to pull away to take the checkered flag, while Kenseth narrowly held off Clint Bowyer for second.
As Johnson says, this sets up for a dynamic finish to the season.
Here are the three races left:
|Nov. 3||NSCS at Texas||Texas Motor Speedway|
|Nov. 10||NSCS at Phoenix||Phoenix International Raceway|
|Nov. 17||Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami||Homestead-Miami Speedway|
Who will win the Chase?
It is easy to side with Jimmie Johnson when looking ahead at the Chase. The five-time champ is running strong and he has experience.
However, Kenseth proved he will not go away quietly.
Johnson has been dominant at this track over the years, while Kenseth has struggled. Still, that didn't keep Kenseth from closing the gap on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
It is going to be an entertaining final three races.