Fit to be tied
Despite the history, Matt Kenseth believed he could make up points on Jimmie Johnson in Sunday’s Goody’s 500.
That went against all the pre-race forecasts since Kenseth had never won at Martinsville Speedway and Johnson was an eight-time winner seeking his third in a row.
Kenseth proved his hunch right, finishing second after losing a battle to Jeff Gordon while Johnson was never a factor in the run to the checkered flag and finished fifth in one of the biggest surprises of the Chase for the Championship. The turn of events leaves Kenseth and Johnson tied for the points lead with Gordon third and 27 back heading into the final three races.
Kenseth believed he had a shot because he led laps and ran well in his first race driving for Joe Gibbs Racing here in the spring, which was an improvement over his usual performances here while in cars from Roush-Fenway Racing.
“I felt today was an opportunity to get the point lead back,” Kenseth said. “We had great day Friday and Saturday. I went to bed Saturday thinking I had a chance to win a clock (which is given to race winners at Martinsville) which I know sounds crazy because we hadn’t had that many good runs here and it’s probably my second worst track. But they give me such good cars at JGR. I couldn’t be much happier.”
His only disappointment was that he couldn’t hold off Gordon, who took the lead with 20 laps to go and motored on to his eighth Martisnville win (and 88th of his career) by .605 seconds while Kenseth edged Bowyer for second place at the end of the 500 laps interrupted by 17 cautions.
“When your team puts you in front for that last run and you get beat, you’re always a little bit disappointed,” Kenseth said. “I just got beat by experience and a better driver at this track. I was hesitant to change my line and do the things he was doing, because I decided I needed to keep doing the things that got me there.
“I was running right all along the curb (on the inside of the turns) and I never had enough breathing room to move up and run the line that a lot of them were running to come off the corners straighter.”
Kenseth led a race-best 202 laps as Johnson led 123 and Gordon was in front for 78. All dropped back in the middle stages when they pitted at different times during a series of yellow flags.
But eventually all the lead-lap cars got on the same pit sequence, after Kenseth moved into the lead on lap 374. Shortly after the final caution ended on lap 423, Gordon was second with Brad Keselowski third and Johnson fourth.
Inside 40 laps to go, Gordon began closing. He easily drove past Kenseth with 21 laps to go and sped to his first win since the season-finale at Homestead last year.
“This is huge,” Gordon said. “So many times we’ve gone home thinking ‘What do we have to do to win?’”
Gordon said he was helped by restarting in the inside lane for the last two restarts, as most drivers lost positions starting in the outside lane, and that he had to be patient until he saw an opportunity to strike.
“I don’t think I’ve been that patient in a long time,” Gordon said.
Johnson, on the other hand, showed none of his usual Martinsville prowess down the stretch as he kept losing time to the leader.
“We had a decent day and we’ll see if we can’t get to Victory Lane soon,” Johnson said.
After the race, he engaged in a testy conversation with Greg Biffle, who was upset that Johnson ripped the bumper cover loose while they were running for position not long after the midway point.
Bowyer had a chance to move Kenseth out of the way on the final lap but declined.