Monday, October 28, 2013

Chasing the Championship: Recapping the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger at Martinsville

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Jeff Gordon captures victory in 21 consecutive seasons
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images  
After seven races, the Championship picture is becoming clear. Five-time Champion, Jimmie Johnson and the last Winston Cup Champion, Matt Kenseth are tied at the top of the leaderboard with their nearest pursuer 27 points behind.

Texas, Phoenix and Homestead stand between one driver and his chance to make history, but before we move on, let’s look back at how the Chase contenders weathered the oldest track in the series, Martinsville Speedway.

1. Matt Kenseth - leader - wins tiebreaker
by: Lacy Keyser

Coming to Martinsville some said this was one of Matt Kenseth’s worst tracks. But Kenseth proved them wrong by finishing second and leading 202 laps.

Throughout most of the day Kesnseth was either in the lead or battling for the top spot. He first secured the lead on Lap 37. On about Lap 235, Kenseth stayed out on old tires while the rest of the field pitted. With everyone else on fresh rubber the No. 20 slipped back through the field.

After dropping back to 19th, Kenseth was on a different pit schedule than the leaders so he stayed out and captured the lead while Johnson hit pit road. Kenseth looked to win this race, but the No.24 of Jeff Gordon was strong. A clean hard battle between the two resulted in Gordon stealing the lead and securing the win, with Kenseth settling for second.

“Well, when we got in the back, we were leading or running second or something and had three- or four-cycle tires,” Kenseth said. "And I felt I slipped the tires real bad a couple times on the previous restart, and that was when the 48 and that whole group pitted and we stayed out and we went all the way back to half a straightaway ahead of the leader, we backed up so bad.”

2. Jimmie Johnson (tied with Kenseth)
by: Carol D’Agostino

As a master of Martinsville Speedway, Jimmie Johnson had a strong performance in the Goody’s Headache Relief 500, but it wasn’t as easy as 1-2-3, though Johnson did lead 123 laps of the race. Unfortunately for Johnson , Matt Kenseth led the most laps with 202. In other words, Johnson and Knaus got “out Johnsoned” by the No. 20 team.

When Johnson wasn’t racing up front he was battling from the back. He finished the race in fifth place but wasn’t expecting the championship to be handed to him.

“It’s been a great battle with the No. 20 car," Johnson said. "It’s going to be a dog fight to the end.”

As we go into Texas Motor Speedway the Chase will definitely heat up as Johnson only has a 15.2 average finish at this race in comparison with Kenseth’s 4.4. In the past five years, Johnson has one pole, one win, one top five and two top 10s at Texas.

3. Jeff Gordon (-27)
by: Beth Reinke

The grandfather clock struck eight in a fairy tale finish for Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team at Martinsville. Notching his eighth victory at the Virginia venue, Gordon tied teammate Jimmie Johnson for most wins at the track among active drivers.

The Drive to End Hunger Chevy ran in the top 10 for most of the event, dropping to mid-pack for only a short stretch after a green flag pit stop. Despite a tight racecar and a few restart struggles early on, crew chief Alan Gustafson said his crew pulled off two “really clutch” pit stops at the end of the race.

Gordon ticked off the final circumstances that facilitated the win: “... there at the end, great pit stop, tires at the right time, good adjustments, and then we were in the inside lane the final two restarts, and to me that made all the difference."

After Gordon took the lead from Matt Kenseth with 21 to go, the caution-filled race ended in an unexpected long green run, allowing Gordon to weave through lapped traffic and stay ahead of Kenseth and Clint Bowyer.

Overall, Gordon said he was disappointed in his qualifying run and ninth starting spot, but felt the team’s pit stall position, fast car and confidence were advantages. He shared thoughts on the win in his post-race press conference.

“This meant so much. I feel like we've worked so hard, and many weekends we've left the racetrack looking at one another going, what do we have to do? We've had race cars, we've had pit stops, we've had strategy. I feel like I've had days where I've done my part but just couldn't get it all lined up. Today -- I mean, we come into this race with a lot of confidence. This is a great track for us, the 24 team, for me personally, and these guys, Alan especially, they gave me a great race car all weekend long.”

With this 88th career win, Gordon gained two spots in the standings and sits just 27 points behind Kenseth and Johnson, who are tied for the lead.

4. Kevin Harvick (-28)
by: Katy Lindamood

Kevin Harvick’s temper went full-throttle Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. Following an incident with Ty Dillon during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Harvick stopped on pit road blocking Dillon’s stall. Emotions followed “Happy” to the garage where his thoughts regarding the young Dillon were recorded for all to hear.

Sunday morning Harvick apologized for his remarks towards his Sprint Cup owner and his grandson. With four races left until the curtain closed on the 2013 season, and his tenure with RCR, Harvick needed to focus on his title run.

The Rheem Chevrolet rolled off the grid 10th and would finish in the sixth position, leaving Harvick fourth in the points, 28 out of the lead. Although he never made it to the lead, Harvick spent the day consistently within the top 15.

Pit strategy put the No. 29 outside the top 20 late in the race but they were able to recover and gain valuable positions on the track until a water pressure issue forced the team to pit road. During the stop the team made repairs to a hole in the grill. Harvick once again fought his way toward the front and into his sixth place finish.

5. Kyle Busch (-36)
by: Stacey Owens

From his third place starting position, Kyle Busch was poised to make a run at his first Martinsville win, but victory at the 0.526-mile track would escape him again. Running a Halloween paint scheme on his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota wasn’t enough to scare other Chase contenders away. Busch led 12 laps but settled for a 15th place finish after a race riddled with 17 cautions and near misses that flared tempers from the front to the back of the pack.

Busch lost the handling on his car during the extended long run of the final 70 laps and wasn’t able to maintain his top-10 position.

“We had a pretty good car on a short run but nothing for the long runs. The race ended on a long run, and our car just wouldn’t turn the center. It’s a pretty disappointing end to the weekend.”

His finish dropped him two positions in the championship points standings, where he now sits 36 points back of Kenseth and Johnson who remain in a dead heat for the title.

6. Clint Bowyer (-55)
by: Katy Lindamood

“Well, I mean, it was certainly a good run for us, a good shot in the arm, something our team needed. I was certainly a little bit -- not a little bit -- I was disappointed,” said Clint Bowyer on Monday about his third-place finish at Martinsville. “I've been looking forward to Martinsville for a long time, and just come up a little short and flat-out got beaten. But, nonetheless, it was a good run for us, a good momentum builder for our race team going into the last three races.”

Clint Bowyer’s day started from the fifth position. Considered one of the favorites for the win, Bowyer showed strength throughout and spent the majority of the race inside the top five, leading 60 of the 500 circuits. Bowyer’s efforts allowed him to move up two positions in the standings to sixth.

With three races remaining in the 2013 season, Bowyer is 55 markers behind leaders Kenseth and Johnson.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-56)
by: Rebecca Kivak

Despite a hard-fought eighth-place finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr. left Martinsville dejected. The Hendrick Motorsports driver battled a tight racecar, a damaged front fender and a flapping hood to spend most of the day in the top 10, surviving the caution-marred race but never contending for the race win.

Earnhardt Jr. rolled off the grid 12th in Sunday’s 2013 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger and entered the top 10 by Lap 85. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet reported a tight racecar. During the multiple cautions, the crew made numerous adjustments to the car. The handling of the No. 88 improved and Earnhardt Jr. broke into the top five on Lap 152.

During the beating and banging that characterizes the Virginia short track, Earnhardt Jr. ran as high as third, but his right front fender was damaged and his hood was flapping around. What also hurt Earnhardt Jr. was restarting on the outside line on several late-race restarts, where he would lose position. Despite his struggles, he ran solidly in the top 10 with 40 laps to go and crossed the finish line eighth.

Earnhardt Jr. fell one spot in the championship standings to seventh. Though he attained a strong finish to a tough day, Earnhardt Jr. was left thinking of what could have been. He was worried for his team’s chances at the title with three races left in the Chase.

“I would rather win the race, and I have missed a lot of opportunities to win here,” Earnhardt Jr. said at Martinsville. “We finish alright, we run alright. … Right now we are just worried about ourselves. We have two or three races to go and we want to get as close as we can.”

8. Greg Biffle (-58)
by: Stephanie Stuart

Greg Biffle came into Martinsville knowing that he needed a strong run if he was going to gain ground on the championship. After starting 33rd, he was able to bring the No. 16 home in ninth place, but it wasn't good enough to top points co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, who both finished ahead of Biffle. He now sits eighth in the standings, 58 points behind the leaders.

Starting deep in the field, Biffle had a lot of moving up to do if he was going to challenge for the win. He battled a tight racecar for most of the afternoon. Biffle's crew had to work fast to remove the bumper cover on the car in order to keep him on the lead lap after sustaining damage on the track. When it was all said and done, Biffle managed to bring the car home on the lead lap in ninth place, which is better than his average finish of 20.2 at the paper clip-shaped track.

With the Chase tied for the lead, and Biffle 50+ points back, he is a long shot to contend for the title come Homestead. Luckily, the Chase travels to Texas this weekend, where the Roush Fenway cars have had a lot of success over the years. Look for Biffle to try to finish the season out strong. 

9. Kurt Busch (-75)
by: Rebecca Kivak

After sustaining damage in a pair of wrecks, Kurt Busch finished 18th after struggling through Sunday’s caution-filled Martinsville race. Though he recovered and ran in the top 10 after the incidents, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion couldn’t make headway in traffic and finished one lap down.

The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet started 19th in the 2013 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger. Busch hung around the top 20, unable to make up much ground in the first third of the race. He was running 15th on Lap 182 when the field stacked up in Turns 1 and 2, causing a multi-car wreck and the race’s fifth caution. Busch’s racecar incurred damage on the grille and left rear side.

Busch ended up bringing out the next caution on Lap 204 when he got on the inside of Jamie McMurray in Turn 4. Forcing the issue, Busch made contact with McMurray and spun out, slamming into Mark Martin. The No. 78 picked up damage on both sides.

The wreck forced Busch to restart 24th, but he recovered and ran as high as seventh. Taking four tires on his last few pit stops cost Busch track position and put him outside the top 10, where he battled traffic and finished off the lead lap in 18th.

Though Busch remains ninth in the championship standings, he lost 14 points to leader Matt Kenseth after Martinsville. With three races to go in the Chase, Busch is unlikely to capture his second Sprint Cup title.

“We didn't qualify well (19th), didn't practice well and obviously didn't race well," Busch said at Martinsville. “… It was a very disappointing performance today.

“For a Chase team we should have been much better.”

10. Carl Edwards (-76)
by: Katy Lindamood

Despite a 14th-place qualifying effort, Carl Edwards and the No. 99 Geek Squad Ford had a tough day at Martinsville. Handling issues in the opening segment of the 500-lap race sent Edwards toward the rear of the field where he spent most of the day.

Contact between Edwards and the No. 31 of Jeff Burton brought out the first caution of the race as the No. 99 clipped Burton’s Chevy. Burton spun out while Edwards continued forward, though he sustained damage to the front right fender.

Edwards made progress toward the front of the pack after the halfway mark and was able to secure a 12th place finish.

The Roush-Fenway racing driver sits 10th in the standings.

11. Joey Logano (-85)
by: Stacey Owens

Though Joey Logano and the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil team gained a position in the championship points standings following a respectable 14th place finish in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, Logano’s championship hopes are virtually over this year.

Logano was the fastest Ford with a 19.111 second qualifying effort as the weekend started. With his sixth-place starting position, Logano ran with the leaders early on but was never closer to the front than fourth position.

At Lap 290, Logano fell to the 22nd position during a long green flag run on older tires.

Logano tweeted after the race: “Not what we wanted today. Lost track position and couldn't get it back. Bumper cars out there. Three more chances and we can win them all.”

He may not have the speed that other Chase contenders have, but this young driver isn’t lacking any confidence. That may be the formula that keeps Logano near the front of the field for years to come.

12. Ryan Newman (-106)
by: Stephanie Stuart

The Chase hasn't really gone Ryan Newman's way. A string of tough luck and sub-par finishes tell the story of Newman's 12th place spot in the standings. A 38th-place finish today at Martinsville wasn't what he needed to get himself headed in the right direction.

Newman started the day off well, running as high as sixth position, but a pit road miscue that resulted in a loose lugnut, a tight handling racecar, and an eventual spin would dampen the day for the No. 39 team. The spin came on lap 318, after contact with the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick. Heavy damage to the rear of the car sent Newman to the garage for repairs. He would return to the track 68 laps down, where he would end the event.

Newman's bad day topped off with a move down to 12th in the standings. He now sits 106 points behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, and would ultimately need a mathematical miracle to win the title. His spirits aren't dampened though, and Newman will continue to drive hard as he heads towards the end of his tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing.

13. Kasey Kahne (-124)

Kahne’s bad luck continued as he was involved in the fifth caution of the day. His 27th-place finish leaves him 13th in the points, 124 behind the leader.

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