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Gordon back in victory lane as Kenseth ties with Johnson

Jeff Gordon recalled his glory days at Martinsville with his first win of the year, while Jimmie Johnson was unable to gain his usual advantage from the track in his title battle with Matt Kenseth.
Martinsville Speedway has always been Jimmie Johnson's ace in the hole when it's came to Chase campaigns in the past. If he's been in with chance of the title heading to the half mile "paperclip" short track, then it's been Martinsville that has allowed him to put his foot down and start to pull away to safety from the opposition. With eight career wins here - his most successful track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series - there's no place that Johnson feels more at home or is more confident at.

By contrast, Johnson's chief Chase rival in 2013, Matt Kenseth, has never won at Martinsville. In fact, he's managed only three top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 27 career starts at the venue, so the name of the game for Kenseth heading to the circuit on Sunday for the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger was damage limitation and not let Johnson massively extend the lead he'd taken at Talladega a week before. Anything else would be gravy.

Both men were up at the front right from the start, with Johnson taking the lead away from pole winner Denny Hamlin on lap 2 before the first of what would prove to be a season-high 17 cautions totalling 111 laps (almost a quarter of the 500-lap race) run under yellow. The first caution was a particularly lengthy one for fluid clean up after Carl Edwards got into the back of Jeff Burton at turn 4 and spun the #31 around, also involving Dave Blaney, Travis Kvapil and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the aftermath.

The race resumed on lap 20 with Kyle Busch talking the lead from Johnson for a dozen laps before Kenseth took over for the first time on lap 37. Deciding he liked the view, he moved in the furniture and settled down for the first long spell in the lead, amassing a total of 74 laps out in front which raised eyebrows among spectators: had Kenseth finally mastered Martinsville?

The second caution came on lap 88, and once again Carl Edwards was in the thick of it - this time it was Kvapil sent spinning around by the #99. For the second time of the day, Edwards had his spotter relay his apologies as the field pitted for the first time.

Kenseth resumed in the lead ahead of the Hendrick Motorsports pair of Johnson and Gordon, the latter driver almost as successful at Martinsville in his time as Johnson, but not having found his way to victory lane here since 2005. Still, with such proven firepower arrayed against him, it was only a matter of time before Kenseth was forced to give way: it happened on lap 111 when Johnson made a move on the low side and picked up the position, Gordon following his team mate's lead a few minutes later. Those who'd thought that maybe this would be a breakthrough day for Kenseth settled back again in their seats: normal service had been restored.

Johnson's lead continued through a caution on lap 140 for David Reutimann spinning out Bobby Labonte and the ensuing pit stops, through to the next yellow on lap 166 for Kyle Larson's engine letting go and dropping more fluid on the track on the backstretch. Jeff Burton stayed off pit road this time and briefly led at the restart on lap 180, but he was soon displaced by Johnson taking back his rightful crown.

It's just as well he did it quickly, because the next caution came out just three laps later when a group of cars bunched up in turn 1 and tripped over each other: Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. were among those caught up, with Kahne ending up stuck in the grass, Hamlin slewed sideways on the track and Truex with a new accordion design to the front of the #56.

Racing resumed on lap 192 and was under caution again on lap 205 for another multi-car accident, this time for Kurt Busch spinning after contact with Jamie McMurray that left the #78 ripe for getting rammed by Mark Martin in the #14. Kenseth took the lead soon after the restart and was back out in front when Kvapil spun in turn 4 on lap 218.




Related Pictures

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Jeff Burton, driver of the #31 Sleep Innovations/Dow Chevrolet, and Dave Blaney, driver of the #7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Dodge, are involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 27, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
David Reutimann, driver of the #83 Burger King/Dr Pepper Toyota, is involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 27, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, and Mark Martin, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, are involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 27, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS captures the chequered flag Sunday, October 27, 2013 winning Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. Gordon moved up to 3rd place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (HHP/Garry Eller for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finished in 1st place Sunday, October 27, 2013 winning Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. Gordon moved up to 3rd place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory Sunday, October 27, 2013 after winning Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. Gordon moved up to 3rd place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Picture Credit: HHP/Rusty Jarrett for Chevrolet)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Team battled back from a bad re-start after the first caution of the race to finish 17th in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo Credit: Campbell Marketing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
A general view as cars pit during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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