If you were paying attention at all during the lead up to Sunday's race at Martinsville, you know the storyline. It was Jimmie Johnson's dominance of the paperclip and Matt Kenseth's lack of success.
Could Kenseth keep it close on Sunday? He did more than that. And it was another driver with a sparkling Martinsville resume who took the checkered flag.
Jeff Gordon passed Kenseth with 20 laps to go following a spirited battle for the lead and knifed his way through traffic for his 88th Sprint Cup Series win and eighth at Martinsville. That ties him with Johnson for Martinsville victories, and Gordon said he was channeling his teammate when he was chasing Kenseth.
"What would Jimmie Johnson do? Or better yet, what would Richard Petty do?," Gordon said in victory lane. "You really just-- the tires really went away on us at the end. I knew his car was good on the short runs but he was putting a really good run together -- we had freed my car up and I think at the end there it was a little too free. But every time I saw him slip a wheel I just tried to conserve my tires and drive the car real straight into the corner and off the corner."
Petty has 15 wins at the paperclip.
Kenseth held off Clint Bowyer on the last lap to finish second, and led the most laps during the race. Though he said afterwards that while he had nothing to complain about, he felt his lack of success at the track was what hindered him in his tussle with Gordon for the lead.
"Jeff's experience here got me. I'm just not that experienced running up front here," Kenseth said. "And I had something that was working, but I was kind of hurting the rear tires and I hurt the front tires too and it just went away from me there at the end."
Johnson finished fifth, and since Kenseth got that valuable bonus point for the most laps led, he's now tied with the five-time champion for the points lead heading into the last three races of the season.
Who has the edge now? You can make your case for either side on that one. Kenseth has been the king of the 1.5 mile tracks this season, and Texas and Homestead are that distance. Though Johnson won last year's Texas race in a spirited duel with Brad Keselowski and has an average finish at Phoenix that's 11 spots higher than Kenseth's.
- - - - - - -