By Joe Menzer, Special to NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Jeff Gordon passed Matt Kenseth with 21 laps to go and went on to win the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
It was Gordon's first win of the season and the eighth of his career at the .526-mile track that has been hosting NASCAR races since 1949. It also helped Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, hang onto at least a piece of the lead along with Kenseth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with three races remaining in the season.
Johnson finished fifth. He and Kenseth are tied for the Chase lead heading into next Sunday's AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, while Gordon moved into third.
Kenseth, who had struggled mightily at the past at Martinsville, appeared in command but ended up barely holding off Clint Bowyer to finish second after Gordon made his nifty pass to the inside going into Turn 1 on Lap 479 of the 500-lap event.
Johnson entered the day with a four-point advantage on Kenseth in the Chase standings. The pair spent the day sparring, trying different strategies as the numerous cautions continued to mount on the .526-mile paper clip, the only short track on the 10-race Chase schedule.
At times, Johnson and Kenseth took turns running up front. Then one would fall back, only to rally again.
Gordon, meanwhile, kept lurking in the vicinity of the Chase leaders. Now he can be called one of them, as he at least injected himself into the championship conversation heading to Texas.
It appeared heading into the race that Johnson would have a huge advantage over Kenseth at Martinsville. While Johnson entered with eight career wins, 16 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes in 23 career starts at the track, Kenseth had never won and had registered only three top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 27 career starts. To put it in even better perspective, Johnson entered the day having led a total of 2,327 laps in his career at Martinsville; Kenseth had led a total of 169 out of more than 13,000 laps he had run there.
Those numbers meant nothing when it came right down to it Sunday.
Kenseth led early, fell as far back as 21st, then rallied again when a series of repeated pit stops for fresh tires and chassis adjustments cycled his No. 20 Toyota back to the front. He ended up leading a race-high 202 laps to 123 for Johnson, gaining a crucial bonus point in that head-to-head battle. But he could not hold off Gordon in the end.