Jeff Gordon kept his hopes of winning a fifth Sprint Cup Series championship alive by winning his first race of the season on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Gordon passed Matt Kenseth for the lead with 21 laps remaining and then held off Kenseth at the finish by 0.6 seconds to win the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 — the seventh race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
It was Gordon’s 88th career victory in NASCAR’s premier series but his first since the 2012 season-finale at Homestead (33-races ago). He also scored his eighth win at Martinsville, which placed him in a tie with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, for third on the track’s all-time race winners list. Gordon’s last victory here came in October 2005.
Kenseth’s second-place run coupled with a fifth-place finish for Johnson allowed Kenseth to move into a points tie with Johnson. Both drivers have 2,294 points apiece with just three races to go — Texas (next Sunday), Phoenix (Nov. 10) and Homestead (Nov. 17).
With the win, Gordon climbed from fifth to third in the Chase standings. He is now 27 points behind Kenseth and Johnson.
Two days before the Chase began at Chicagoland, Gordon was added as the 13th driver in the Chase field due to the controversial finish in the Sept. 7 regular-season-ending race at Richmond. The sanctioning body made the decision to include him in the playoffs in what NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France described as “an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances that unfolded in multiple different ways” at Richmond. Gordon finished eighth there but had come up only one point short of qualifying for the Chase.
Gordon became the 16th different race winner in Sprint Cup this season. His fourth and most recent championship in the series came in 2001.
Kenseth is credited with leading the point standings by virtue of his series- leading seven wins this season compared to five victories for Johnson. Kenseth led a race-high 202 laps. He has yet to win at Martinsville in 28 attempts.
Johnson led a total of 123 laps, in an attempt to win his third consecutive Martinsville race. The five-time series champion took over the top ranking in the Chase after last weekend’s race at Talladega, holding a four-point advantage over Kenseth.
Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, the pole sitter, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray, who won at Talladega, completed the top-10.
Harvick remained fourth in points (-28), while Kyle Busch dropped from third to fifth (-36) following his 15th-place finish. Bowyer moved up two positions to sixth (-55).