Chasing the Championship – Martinsville Madness Puts a Hurt on Chase Contenders

Photo credit: John Harrelson/NKP
Photo credit: John Harrelson/NKP

Posted By: David Morgan – Follow at @damorgan86

November 3, 2015

Heading into the opening round of the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Martinsville, the championship battle was heating up among the eight remaining Chase contenders. After 500 laps around the half-mile bullring, the Chase standings were turned completely upside down, with several of the contenders having various issues throughout the day.

So how did your favorite Chase contender fare on a wild afternoon in Southern Virginia?

LOCKED INTO THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND AT HOMESTEAD

Jeff Gordon – Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Winner – Points Leader

On a day when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was racing Mother Nature as much as each other around the tight confines of Martinsville, Jeff Gordon was able to outlast them all to score the win in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.

Taking over the race lead as a result of a run-in between Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth on lap 454 that sent Logano into the outside wall courtesy of Kenseth’s front bumper, Gordon was able to show just how good he has been at Martinsville throughout his career, holding off a hard charging Jamie McMurray as darkness closed in to score his record ninth win at the shortest track on the circuit.

“We’re going to Homestead!” Gordon exclaimed after exiting his car in victory lane.

“This is the sweetest, most amazing feeling. I am so proud of this team. You want to talk about holding back emotions; right now man, wow, we’re going to Homestead!  I can’t believe it. What an incredible battle that was. We just stuck with it all day long and I was just trying to protect those rear tires and then that incident with the No. 22 (Joey Logano) and those other guys….”

“Those last couple of laps, I give a lot of credit to Jamie McMurray. He raced me hard and clean there. Oh, man, I’ll tell you it’s just never over. What a battle. What a team. 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.”

REMAINING DRIVERS CURRENTLY IN POSITION TO TRANSFER TO CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND

Kyle Busch – Finished Fifth – Second in Points (-8)

Busch looked to be en route to a solid finish early in the race on Sunday at Martinsville, but after a spin in Turn 2 on lap 172 that came as a result of hitting water along the curb in the turn, that finish looked to be in jeopardy. However, Busch was able to methodically make his way back through the field to bring home a top-five finish to secure second place in points heading to Texas.

“It was not quite the day that we wanted, but we had a really great M&M’s Crispy Camry. The car was fast today and made a mistake early on and got in the water there with the 3 (Austin Dillon) car and we spun out there. I hate it that I did that. From that point we kind of bent the frontend of the car a little bit. It wasn’t the same from there on out, but we just kept working on it and kept making good changes to the car. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a really good job for me and we were able to come home with a top-five. I felt like we had a top-five car and there the way the restarts kind of worked out at the end, it worked out in our favor and just real proud of that effort. We’ll go on from here.”

Martin Truex, Jr. – Finished Sixth – Third in Points (-8)

Truex started on the outside of the front row on Sunday, moving into the lead by lap 25. Throughout the remainder of the race, Truex continued his hold on the top-10, moving into sixth as the laps wound down, which was good enough for tying with Kyle Busch for second in points, eight points back of Gordon and the points lead.

“Well, we had a couple of good restarts. I think we got to third there, or something. Our car was just really fast on short runs and really terrible on long runs, all day. We really fought it all day long. We just couldn’t keep the tires on it on long runs. It was frustrating at times, but we battled hard and did what we had to do today. We probably would have finished fourth or fifth without that last caution. We just, gosh, I didn’t want to see it there, but all-in-all, it was what we needed to do here. It’s definitely my worst track in this round. Hopefully we can take this No. 78 to Texas and have something for the win and see if we can’t get one there.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished Eighth – Fourth in Points (-10)

Harvick started 12th and moved into the race lead by lap 199, leading the field for 37 circuits around the half-mile track. Staying in the top-five until lap 430, Harvick made contact with his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch on pit road, which caused some damage to the front end of Harvick’s machine. Repairs to Harvick’s car dropped the defending series champion to 17th, but over the final 70 laps, Harvick was able to make his way back into the top-10, finishing eighth as the checkered flag flew.

“This Outback, Jimmy John’s, Budweiser Chevy ran really well today. We got run into there, coming out of the pits and I couldn’t really tell how bad it was. But Rodney (Childers, crew chief), I could tell the panic in his voice. And luckily, the caution came out because I saw the smoke coming out of the left front tire. But, it was a good call to come back in. We were able to get a couple of good restarts there; and then with the front smashed-in, and everything happening, it was just way too tight back there in traffic. But all in all, it was a good day with a lot of chaotic things doing on, on the race track, So, we just needed to finish that one where we were running; not having a chance to win, we just needed to capitalize on some other peoples’ bad day.”

THE DANGER ZONE – DRIVERS ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Carl Edwards – Finished 14th – Fifth in Points (-7 from Fourth)

Edwards struggled from the outset at Martinsville, starting 14th, but unable to move forward in the field. As Edwards made laps in the top-15, the spin by teammate Kyle Busch on lap 172 caused the field to check up and Edwards had nowhere to go as he struck the rear of AJ Allmendinger’s car. The impace caused significant damage to Edwards’ No. 19 car, which dropped him to 29th in the running order at the time. Although he was battling an ill-handling car, Edwards was able to climb back into the top-20 in the final 100 laps, gaining his lap back and eventually finishing exactly where he started in 14th.

“I thought it was going to be a top-10 there at the end. We struggled for a lot of the day, but really proud of all these guys. Our XFINITY Camry was fast at the end, maybe if we got tires – we were just in no man’s land, we didn’t know whether to get tires or not at the end. Crazy race and really tough to pass.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 32nd – Sixth in Points (-24 from Fourth)

Along with his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano, Keselowski was one of the cars to beat throughout the day at Martinsville, leading a total of 143 laps on the day. But at lap 436, things went bad for the 2012 series champion. After contact with Matt Kenseth, which sent Kenseth spinning in front of the field, Keselowski had to go to the garage for repairs, finishing the day in 32nd, nine laps down. The finish has Keselowski 24 points out of the top-four, meaning he will have his work cut out for him over the next two races to be able to advance.

“I got hit from behind and pushed me into the 20 and my right-front wheel hit Kenseth’s left-rear and it just broke the right-front suspension off the car.  The car wouldn’t turn and just kept going straight until I couldn’t do anything and I started wrecking everybody.  I just didn’t have any steering wheel left.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 34th – Seventh in Points (-26 from Fourth)

If there ever were a situation that was “wrong place, wrong time”, Kurt Busch epitomized that on Sunday. While racing in the top-10 on lap 436, Busch was minding his own business when Matt Kenseth was spun right in front of him, leaving Busch with nowhere to go. The heavy contact with Kenseth launched the front end of Busch’s car momentarily before he made an impact into the interior wall on the backstretch, destroying the Monster Energy livery that adorned Busch’s No. 41 machine. The resulting damage sent Busch to the garage, where he would end the day in 34th, 14 laps down.

“I got clipped by everybody and it was just collateral damage off turn two.  Our Monster Energy Chevrolet SS was where we needed to be.  We were running third with a set of fresh tires, and 70 laps to go.  And who knew that restart was going to get that crazy.  When you are an innocent victim of collateral damage it’s tough.  We put in a solid year and this is a fantastic team, this 41 team.  We were debuting a new sponsor in Monster Energy today.  Thanks to Gene Haas, Haas Automation and everybody at Stewart-Haas.  We are down but we’re not out.  We can go to Texas and win, we can win at Phoenix, and we want to get an invite to Homestead.  You know, Jeff Gordon hasn’t won all year and I knew he had Martinsville circled on his schedule, and he won today.  Congratulations to Jeff.”

Joey Logano – Finished 37th – Eighth in Points (-28 from Fourth)

No doubt the most talked about story coming out of Martinsville involved Logano and his No. 22 team. Logano looked to be the man to beat throughout the day, leading nine times for 207 laps, but at lap 455 that all changed. As Logano continued to pace the field, he came upon the lapped down car of Matt Kenseth, who was limping around the track after his earlier incident. As the two went into Turn 1, Kenseth hooked Logano’s car, driving both into the outside wall, causing heavy damage to both Logano’s No. 22 car and Kenseth’s car. NASCAR would park Kenseth for the incident, while Logano ended the day with a 37th place finish and left Martinsville wondering if his championship chances had just gone up in smoke.

“I got wrecked.  I don’t know.  What am I supposed to say about it?  His race was over and he tried so hard to catch us the first time and he took out half the field, and he was successful the second time so I give that to him. It’s kind of a coward move.  Actually, a really coward move for a race car driver to do that, essentially someone as mature and an experienced race car driver that knows what this is all about.  For us, we’re just gonna go back out there and try to salvage a point or two if we can.  We’ll go to Texas and try to win.  We’re on a heckuva run.  We were still leading the race.  We’re not gonna let this take us down.  This is a strong team and he’ll have his.”

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