Hamlin not happy with 8th; Frustrating day for Edwards.
Finishing second to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t without substantial benefits to Jeff Gordon.
When Gordon crossed the finish line .344 seconds behind Earnhardt in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, he did so as the new leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
With Earnhardt, a non-Chase driver, winning the first race of the Chase’s Eliminator Round, Gordon goes to Texas and Phoenix two solid finishes away from advancing to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But Gordon narrowly missed the major prize, a victory that would have locked him into the season finale ahead of a test session at Homestead.
In one respect, Gordon can blame himself for the second-place finish. He had to fight back from a pit road speeding penalty that dropped him to the rear of the field for a restart on Lap 206 of 500.
“Yeah, unfortunately I lost this race today because of my mistake on pit road,” Gordon said. “That was on me. We played catch-up for the rest of the day.”
Gordon was shuffled back on the next-to-last restart with 64 laps left. He came to the flag in second position, to the outside of race leader Clint Bowyer, with Earnhardt in third. Stuck in the outside lane after Earnhardt filled the hole beneath him, Gordon slipped to fifth before he could get back in line on the bottom.
Did Gordon expect Earnhardt to leave him room to get into line at that point?
“I was hoping,” Gordon said. “I mean, he let me in on one other one (an earlier restart). I think the next time I was third, and he never even tried to move down, so I filled the gap. It’s something we’re going to talk about a little bit, because I have a feeling that what happened was, when I didn’t let him in, he felt like, ‘I’m not going to let him in again.’
“I don’t really know. But I’m not upset about it. You don’t expect anybody to do anything. You hope—yeah, sure, you hope. I mean, I hoped Tony Stewart was going to let me in, too, one time. We about crashed going down into Turn 3. That’s racing. That’s just part of it.”
Hamlin's 8th a letdown
Throughout Sunday’s race at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin ran consistently in the top five, led 68 laps and had a car capable of contending for the win.
But Hamlin’s day soured initially with a slow pit stop on Lap 420, when he entered pit road from the lead and came out fourth. When three cars stayed out on old tires and took the green flag with five laps left, Hamlin lost more positions and eventually came home eighth.
That left the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fifth in the standings, seven points behind leader Jeff Gordon. But fifth won’t be good enough when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is cut from eight drivers to four two weeks hence at Phoenix.
“It's hard, because you've got guys that go laps down in the course of the race and get enough lucky dogs and then 50 laps on their tires, and they want to stay out,” Hamlin fumed. “Just bottlenecks the field up and we all got the short end of last restart stick again. Just sucked at the end, and we can't finish where we're running.
“We're running better than what we're finishing. Other guys, like (Ryan) Newman (third Sunday) are finishing better than they're running. That's part of the deal. You've got to do it for all 500 laps, and we just didn't have a very good car once the track went shaded there, and we came in first and came out fourth on a slow stop. I couldn't recover from that.”
Frustration for Edwards
Carl Edwards started 11th in the Goody’s 500. Only one problem—that was the highlight of his day at Martinsville.
Edwards’ No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford lost ground throughout the race, fell a lap down at one point but, with a free pass as the highest-scored lapped car, eventually finished 20th.
Now sixth in the standings, 20 points behind leader Jeff Gordon, Edwards has but one objective in the last two races of the Chase’s Eliminator Round.
“We’ll go to Texas and go for the win,” Edwards said. “We’ll go to Phoenix and go for the win there, and that’s all we can do.”
Edwards, however, has been strong in recent races at intermediate speedways, and he has three victories at Texas Motor Speedway, the next venue on the schedule.
“We ran fifth at Kansas and eighth at Charlotte,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of wins at Texas (three), so there’s nothing saying we can’t go there and do it.
“We’ve got a test coming up this week, and we’ll keep digging. These guys don’t quit.”
NASCAR Wire Service, Reid Spencer