There are just certain tracks that fit certain drivers. The way they are driven, how the car gets set up, it just does not change a lot, even though the times have changed and technology has gotten better.
That can be said for how Jeff Gordon feels about the Martinsville Speedway.
Including this year, Martinsville has been on the NASCAR schedule for 66 years, longer than any track on the circuit. It has not changed a lot in that time. Sure there have been different sponsors coming in, and maybe a little patch work on the track. For a while this place had two pit roads, one on each straightaway, before the current curved setup was installed.
What hasn’t changed is how the track is run. This little 0.526-mile speedway has been known as the “Paper Clip” for a reason, the straightaways mean high speeds, but the tight corners can eat up brakes when not maintained. For Jeff Gordon, he has now seen three different styles of race car compete on this track, but how the track is run has not changed.
That seemed to be evident as he has historically been one of the most dominant drivers at this track. Entering Sunday, he was fourth on the all-time wins list, behind guys like Richard Petty and his teammate, Jimmie Johnson. But he had not seen victory lane at this track since 2005, a season where he did miss the Chase, but swept both events here.
In that time, the old Generation-5 car, known as the “Car of Tomorrow” debuted, and he saw Johnson win five consecutive titles, and go on to win eight races at this track, including one this past spring. Yet, Gordon has consistently been near the front at these races, knowing how to conserve the brakes, and when the best time to pass can be, and the techniques to get around the track.
He’s also seen some rather unfortunate luck here, most notably when he got turned by Kurt Busch a few years ago, and the infamous time when part of the track came undone, destroying the nose of his Chevrolet.
Yet, between 2006 and this year, he was 0-for-15 at Martinsville. It wasn’t that he didn’t run well, just things didn’t go his way. But everytime he came here, including this weekend, the team was really prepared, and knew they had a chance to win. With how his season has gone this year, and also how his 2012 season was, he was desperate for a win. He won the season finale at Homestead a year ago, but never saw victory lane since then, as another winless season continued.
However, things finally fell into place. Sure, his Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet had some heavy nose damage, but that was part of Martinsville. No car leaves this track looking pretty.
On Sunday, he and the entire No. 24 team finally closed the deal on a victory. It would be the 88th win of his career, and his eighth at Martinsville. This track, and that driver, it just is a perfect match. Yet another grandfather clock would go home to him, his wife Ingrid, and his kids, Ella and Leo. Sometimes, one race can make a season of hard luck go away.
RESULTS: 1-Gordon 2-Kenseth 3-Bowyer 4-Keselowski 5-Johnson 6-Harvick 7-Hamlin 8-Earnhardt Jr. 9-Biffle 10-McMurray
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Edwards 14-Logano 15-Kyle Busch 17-Patrick 18-Kurt Busch 27-Kahne 38-Newman
CAUTIONS: 17 for 111 laps. Lap 8-19 (#31 spin-T4), 89-94 (#93 spin-T4), 141-146 (#83 spin-T4), 167-180 (#51 fluid on track-BS), 183-191 (#5, 11, 32, 41, 56 accident-T1), 205-209 (#1, 14, 78 accident-T4), 219-222 (#93 spin-T4), 230-234 (#83 spin-T4), 285-290 (#95 stopped-T4), 299-303 (Debris-T1), 310-314 (#5, 40 accident-T3), 319-324 (#39 accident-T1), 328-332 (#56 spin-T1), 338-341 (Debris-FS), 366-372 (#30 accident-T4), 381-385 (#36 spin-T3), 417-423 (Debris-T1).
LEAD CHANGES: 15 among 8 drivers. Hamlin 1-2, Johnson 3-24, Kyle Busch 25-36, Kenseth 37-110, Johnson 111-174, Burton 175-179, Johnson 180-216, Kenseth 217-237, Bowyer 238-281, Gordon 282-338, Hamlin 339-350, Bowyer 351-366, Kenseth 367, Sadler 368-373, Kenseth 374-479, Gordon 480-500.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 44 Mins, 11 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 70.337 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.605 Seconds
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Kenseth, 2294 points; 2. Johnson, 2294 points; 3. Gordon, -27; 4. Harvick, -28; 5. Kyle Busch, -36; 6. Bowyer, -55; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -56; 8. Biffle, -58; 9. Kurt Busch, -75; 10. Edwards, -76; 11. Logano, -85; 12. Newman, -106; 13. Kahne, -124.