NASCAR Barometer: Gordon Takes Home Ninth Grandfather

NASCAR Barometer: Gordon Takes Home Ninth Grandfather

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.


Jeff Gordon scored a popular win Sunday at the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway. In his final visit to the track, the former champion took his ninth victory, which secured his spot as one of the remaining four drivers eligible to win the 2015 Sprint Cup. The race started under caution as NASCAR worked to dry wet spots on the track after morning rain, but the biggest talking point happened at the end of the distance. Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano had a controversial coming together while Logano was leading (arguably dominating) the race and long after Kenseth had dropped from contention. The resulting controversy from the contact will rage on long after both were eliminated from the race's contention, and this correspondent expects a penalty to be issued this Tuesday.

Sunday's race highlighted some of the best and worst aspects of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. The finish saw one of the sport's greatest icons visit Victory Lane in his final season, while the championship format created undue controversy with millions of dollars on the line. The inexplicable confusion at the end of the Contender Round at Talladega two weeks ago was enough to make fans question the format, but then was followed by the fact that a single driver's animosity could alter the championship picture for not only another competitor but an entire racing organization and its sponsors. The only guarantees coming out of Martinsville are that there will be plenty to talk about in the


Jeff Gordon scored a popular win Sunday at the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway. In his final visit to the track, the former champion took his ninth victory, which secured his spot as one of the remaining four drivers eligible to win the 2015 Sprint Cup. The race started under caution as NASCAR worked to dry wet spots on the track after morning rain, but the biggest talking point happened at the end of the distance. Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano had a controversial coming together while Logano was leading (arguably dominating) the race and long after Kenseth had dropped from contention. The resulting controversy from the contact will rage on long after both were eliminated from the race's contention, and this correspondent expects a penalty to be issued this Tuesday.

Sunday's race highlighted some of the best and worst aspects of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. The finish saw one of the sport's greatest icons visit Victory Lane in his final season, while the championship format created undue controversy with millions of dollars on the line. The inexplicable confusion at the end of the Contender Round at Talladega two weeks ago was enough to make fans question the format, but then was followed by the fact that a single driver's animosity could alter the championship picture for not only another competitor but an entire racing organization and its sponsors. The only guarantees coming out of Martinsville are that there will be plenty to talk about in the final three races of the 2015 Sprint Cup season, and Jeff Gordon will battle to win his fifth Cup championship in the final race of the season.

UPGRADE

Jeff Gordon – Gordon inherited the lead of Sunday's race when Logano and Kenseth renewed their bickering late in Sunday's race. Gordon has been one of the best drivers in the history of Martinsville, and he proved it yet again in his final visit to the track. The win on Sunday wasn't just his ninth at the track; it may have been one of the best of his career. It earned him a spot among the final four drivers alive for the Sprint Cup. Next up: focusing on the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and preparing to challenge for his fifth title. Gordon won at Texas in 2009 and finished seventh there earlier this season.

Denny Hamlin – A speeding penalty on pit road put Hamlin deep in the pack before an early restart. A chain reaction then caught him in the middle of an accident, resulting in an even more challenging effort Sunday afternoon. The incident happened early enough that Hamlin was able to make a full recovery, though. He powered his way back to the third position by the time the distance was complete. The No. 11 would have been in prime championship position had he not struggled at Talladega, but now he's aiming to finish fifth in the standings. He is a two-time winner at Texas and has finished in the top 15 in four of the last five races there.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray proved that he could still be a factor last week in Martinsville. He may no longer be in the Chase, but he put forth a valiant effort to challenge Gordon for the win. McMurray didn't lead any laps but maintained a position at the front of the field throughout the afternoon, in what was a confident performance for the team. The runner-up finish was McMurray's second in the last five races. He also has two top-10 finishes in his last two Texas starts. The combination of strength in the closing races and a decent Texas record could be the ingredients for another top finish this week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – After narrowly missing out on continuing in the Chase last week in Talladega, Earnhardt continued to show what a potent contender he can be at Martinsville. The Hendrick Racing driver was closing in on McMurray in the closing laps for the runner-up spot but came home just shy. He's a prior winner at Martinsville, and, though he didn't challenge his teammate for last week's win, his pace was undeniable at the front of the field. Even better, his record at Texas is good. He has finished in the top 10 more than 50 percent of the times he has visited the track and won the race in his first visit. Earnhardt also has consecutive top-10 results at the track.

DOWNGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano started the Eliminator round of the Chase just as he finished the Contender round. He captured the pole for Sunday's race at Martinsville and was the fastest car out of the pits often in the early running. He was leading late in the race when Matt Kenseth decided enough was enough and plowed the No. 22 into the outside wall. The crash ruined Logano's hopes of winning his fourth consecutive race, and seriously dented his Chase hopes. Kenseth has to wait to see what punishment NASCAR might for him, but the farce may have cost Logano and the Penske team the 2015 championship. Logano, who is last in the Chase standings this week, led 108 laps to win at Texas last spring and finished fourth again this year.

Greg Biffle – An early accident on a restart caused significant damage to Biffle's machine. His front end was smashed, requiring repairs at a time when he could least afford it. Unfortunately, that was just the first of many problems. It seemed like Biffle was involved in every crash at Martinsville last week, which was disappointing for the driver who should have outperformed expectations in Virginia. Biffle finished 17th his last time at Texas, which is also when his race team introduced a new car to help make him more competitive. Fantasy players would be right to question his competitiveness this week.

Paul Menard – After showing promise in practice, Menard's effort on Sunday started to come undone with a tire penalty that forced him to start at the back of the field. Luckily, he had more than half of the race remaining to work his way back. His efforts helped him to finish 15th, but one wonders what might have been had he and his team not made needless mistakes. Last week's unfulfilled promise is typical of what we've come to expect from Menard in the last half of each season. He started inside the top 10 at Texas earlier this season but finished 41st after engine failure. Fantasy players may want to focus on 2016 with this team.

Carl Edwards – Edwards slammed into the back of AJ Allmendinger, causing enough damage to force him into the pits for repairs. It was an accordion-style accident but was enough to put a serious damper on the No. 19's race. The damage meant Edwards spent unnecessary time on pit road making repairs, and he was only able to rebound to finish 14th. Imagine what position he may have achieved without the contact and repairs. Last week was one to forget, but Edwards has always been strong at Texas. He finished 10th there earlier this season and won three times with Roush Fenway Racing. Does he get back to form this week? Fantasy players are right to be skeptical.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer was the victim of an overly aggressive move by teammate David Ragan Sunday in Virginia. Ragan went too deep into the turn, which caused contact with Kyle Larson, who was pushed into Bowyer. The No. 15 suffered heavy rear damage that stalled his efforts in the race. He was out of the action earlier than expected on an afternoon in which he should have been able to outperform poor recent results. Unfortunately last place isn't an improvement. Additionally, Bowyer failed to finish in the top 20 in both of the last two races at Texas and only has three top-5 finishes there in 19 tries. Expectations of the No. 15 should be low this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt Kenseth – The most surprising move of the race came from Kenseth. Logano was leading the race when Kenseth, who was out of contention, crashed into him to take him out of the lead. Kenseth's move was certainly worthy of penalization and meant that he was out of the race for good, and Logano was well behind the rest of the field due to the damage. The driver, crew chief and car owner were immediately called to the official's trailer following the race, while Kenseth tried as hard as possible to make the incident appear as though it wasn't intentional. His rash decision certainly disrupted a championship run for the No. 22 and could alter the face of this season's Chase in what should have been a top finish for either car.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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