Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon intends to retire after this month's season finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway - and it's entirely possible that he may end up bowing out of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition as the new reigning champion.

"This is the sweetest, most amazing feeling," said the four-time former Cup champion. "I am so proud of this team. You want to talk about holding back emotions; right now man, wow, we're going to Homestead! I can't believe it.

"This has turned into a fairy tale year. I cannot believe it. Homestead is going to be an unreal weekend and we're going to completely focus now. We talked about this in our meeting before the race and if we could make it through today and win, all our focus is on the Homestead car."

Gordon ensured that he will be one of the four drivers racing for the title on November 22 by clinching victory this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, after a dramatic piece of late-race payback by Matt Kenseth on Joey Logano took out the most dominant car of the afternoon.

Gordon's 93rd victory in 794 series starts is his first win of 2015 - and crucially, it guarantees him automatic progression from the current three-race Eliminator Round of the Chase and into the line-up of four drivers still able to clinch the title in the winner-take-all season finale later this month.

CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race results from Martinsville Speedway.

There had been early concerns about the weather, with rain in the morning leaving the Air Titans busy drying off the half-mile track in time for the scheduled start of the race. Although broadly successful, a few problems with damp patches remaining on the apron areas led to a green-yellow start and it was seven laps until the race got fully underway. Once it did, pole sitter Joey Logano was quickly passed by Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr., and while Logano was able to get back in front again on lap 36 he was soon demoted for a second time by Jeff Gordon in time for the planned competition caution on lap 52.

It was a pattern that would be repeated during the afternoon, with Logano promoted back to the front thanks to his possession of the best stall on pit road as reward for having topped qualifying, which meant that with every caution and round of pit stops he was able to get back out in front. However, other drivers were abel to get out for short spells including Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch on lap 60 and his SHR team mate Kevin Harvick on lap 199.

Among the 18 cautions during the afternoon were spins for Michael Annet in turn 1 on lap 101 and a multi-car accident at the restart on lap 113 triggered by Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin spinning out that also caught out SHR's Danica Patrick and Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola; Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. locking up and hitting the wall in turn 3 on lap 128; RPM's second driver Sam Hornish Jr. spinning on lap 137 after contact with Ryan Preece; and Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer on lap 187. There were also three cautions on laps 157, 238 and 282 triggered by Roush's Greg Biffle, who was having a thoroughly wretched day of it getting spun repeatedly in turn 2.

After all the early jockeying for the lead, it became increasingly clear from the midway point of the 500-lap race that control fo the race was becoming an exclusively all-Penske battle, with Logano swapping positions with his team mate Brad Keselowski. Once again, the pit stall advantage allowed Logano to reclaim the top spot for the restart on lap 434 following two rapid cautions, the first for Danica Patrick spinning in turn 4 and the second for BK Racing's Jeb Burton crashing out at the same spot. When the green flag came out, there was contact at the front of the field with JGR's Matt Kenseth ending up getting into both Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, sending both of those cars to pit lane for repairs.

Kenseth blamed the Penske pair at the front of the field for triggering the incident: "They were both jacking up the restart trying to let each other in and I got in there and tried to pass Joey and then Brad got into me off the corner real hard so I don't know what happened," he said. "Brad wiped me out for some reason."

"I got hit from behind and pushed me into the #20 [Kenseth] and my right-front wheel hit Kenseth's left-rear and it just broke the right-front suspension off the car," explained Keselowski. "The car wouldn't turn and just kept going straight until I couldn't do anything and I started wrecking everybody. I just didn't have any steering wheel left."

"I got clipped by everybody and it was just collateral damage off turn two," was Kurt Busch's view of the incident. "We were running third with a set of fresh tyres, and 70 laps to go. Who knew that restart was going to get that crazy? When you are an innocent victim of collateral damage it's tough. We put in a solid year and this is a fantastic team, this #41 team."

Even without his team mate on the track to help him out, Logano was still in charge when the race when the race resumed on lap 443 followed by Gordon, Jamie McMurray (Ganassi), Kyle Busch (JGR) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick). The damage to the #20 car meant that Kenseth was soon being lapped by the leaders at the short track, and as soon as Logano was back in his sights Kenseth decided that it was time to take care of unfinished business, partly as retaliation for the previous caution but also to make good his promise to pay Logano back for spinning him out of Chase contention in last month's race at Kansas.

He finally achieved his objective on lap 454 when he planted the #22 firmly into the wall on the frontstretch, a very costly spill indeed for Logano who had seemed to have had the race in the bag with under 50 laps left to run. Kenseth himself protested that it was bodywork damage that had left him unable to turn which had led to him driving straight into Logano, but an entirely unconvinced and deeply unamused race control requested the pleasure of the company of Kenseth, his crew chief Jason Ratcliff and car owner Joe Gibbs in the NASCAR hauler after the race to discuss the matter, along with Logano and his own team representatives.

"Definitely my fault," admitted Kenseth. "I got into him. The right front was dragging down there and probably should've went to the garage area and went into the corner there and man couldn't get it to turn and collected him. I know it's got to be disappointing for him you know. It's a tough sport, some days you're the bat and some days you're the ball. I was the ball a few weeks ago and I was the ball again today so that part is never fun."

"I think what happened at Kansas is a completely different deal," responded Logano. "We were racing for the win [at Kansas] and he blocks you a few times and then we raced hard and he blocked me the last time and we spun out. That's what happened there.

"Here it was just a complete coward move, especially for a championship race car driver and race team. Just a complete coward. I don't have anything else to say. It's a chicken-you-know-what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over.

"We'll move on, we're gonna work hard," he said, already looking ahead to the next two races at Texas and Phoenix and what he needs to do to keep his title hopes alive. "We've just got to go win."

The incident forced a 13-minute red flag stoppage, which was the last thing NASCAR needed at this point. While all the threatened rain in the area had courteously stayed or the south of the circuit, the number of cautions together with the end of daylight saving time and the lack of floodlights at Martinsville meant that the light was starting to fade with less than half an hour remaining until sunset.

None of the leaders wanted to get caught out without fresh tyres, but Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing) decided it was worth the gamble and stayed out to fight for the lead when the race finally restarted on lap 459, ahead of a trio of Chase contender in the form of Gordon, Truex and Kyle Busch. The new tyres eventually won out and Gordon went to the front with 22 laps remaining with last year's race winner McMurray following him through into second place ahead of Truex and Earnhardt also timing his charge to the front to perfection.

Before the matter could be decided, there was one final caution when Hornish spun out for the second time of the day in turns 1 and 2 on lap 494 to set up a green-white-chequered shoot-out to decide the winner under increasingly twilight conditions. But Gordon more than had the experience to hold off the competition having already won here eight times in the past, and when race finally made it to the finish line it was still Gordon out in front for a ninth victory at the Paperclip, booking his place in the final at Homestead-Miami.

"What an incredible battle that was. We just stuck with it all day long and I was just trying to protect those rear tires and then that incident with the No. #22 and those other guys," Gordon said afterwards. "Those last couple of laps, I give a lot of credit to Jamie McMurray. He raced me hard and clean there."

McMurray was 0.336s behing Gordon but held on to second place despite a late resurgence from Hamlin who overcame an early spin and two pit lane penalties to clinch third ahead of Earnhardt, whose own late run had ended up being blunted by that final caution.

"Great battle with Jeff," said McMurray. "I have looked up to Jeff Gordon since I was a little kid. What a fun way on his last year to get to battle him like that. I wish we could have won. Had a great car just the inside was kind of the preferred line on those restarts."

"All these short runs and everything just killed us and we just went backwards on every restart, that's kind of where we sealed our fate there," reported Hamlin. "There were two pit road penalties and that's just the driver trying to make too much up on pit road, trying to do too much."

"That last 100 laps was good - the car was fast [but] it's hard to pass, everybody up front was kind of equal," said Earnhardt. "We started off not handling good at all. I don't know why the car wasn't good because it was awesome yesterday. We worked all night really to work on it and get it better."

Kyle Busch ended up the second-placed of the remaining eight chase contenders one position ahead of Truex. That was a fairly remarkable comeback for the #18, which had got loose and spun around in turn 2 on lap 172 and incurred significant damage, although the car had been strong enough in the first place to allow Busch to recover the lost ground and make his way forward again in the second half of the race.

"I screwed us up early in the race and touched that water down there in turn one and spun out," admitted Busch. "I bent up the front end of the car and it was just never right from there on out, but we persevered and we just made the changes that we needed to make for this car for our conditions that we had.

"[We were] there at the end was good enough for a top-five so I'm glad we finished there. Everybody is so equal here and when it's those last sort of restarts like that you are just going for everything you've got - whoever's in front of you, get them out of the way. All in all, good day for us. Real proud of this team and everything that we've been doing this year, hopefully we keep it going."

"It's definitely my worst track in this round," said sixth-place finisher Truex. "We had a couple of good restarts. I think we got to third there, or something. Our car was just really fast on short runs and really terrible on long runs, all day. We really fought it all day long. We just couldn't keep the tyres on it on long runs. It was frustrating at times, but we battled hard and did what we had to do today. We probably would have finished fourth or fifth without that last caution."

Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman finished in seventh place one spot ahead of reigning champion Kevin Harvick who was racing with front-end damage to the #4, while the last two top ten finishers were Kasey Kahne (Hendrick) and Tony Stewart (SHR), both of them in cars that had been forced to start right at the back of the grid after overnight repairs.

"With the front smashed-in, and everything happening, it was just way too tight back there in traffic," said Harvick. "But all in all, it was a good day with a lot of chaotic things doing on, on the race track, So, we just needed to finish that one where we were running; not having a chance to win, we just needed to capitalise on some other peoples' bad day."

In total only half of the remaining Chase contenders finished in the top ten. Even so, despite finishing in only 14th place Carl Edwards will still feel somewhat relieved as the #19 had been handling poorly all afternoon. Edwards was also caught up in the aftermath of his team mate Kyle Busch's incident on lap 172 when he had ended up running into the back of Allmendinger's car. While Busch was able to overcome the setback thanks to an inherently better car, Edwards soon found himself being lapped by the race leaders. He eventually got a free pass to get back on the lead lap again, and the late-race incidents for Keselowski, Busch and Logano helped boost his position further by the chequered flag.

"I thought it was going to be a top ten there at the end," said Edwards. "We struggled for a lot of the day, but really proud of all these guys. Our Xfinity Camry was fast at the end, maybe if we got tyres - we were just in no man's land, we didn't know whether to get tyres or not at the end. Crazy race and really tough to pass."

However the situation looks grim for both Penske drivers despite their having dominated so much of the race, between them leading for 350 of the 500 laps. Keselowski ended up being classified in 32nd and Logano down in 37th, while Kurt Busch sits between them shown in 34th place - and all of them have Kenseth to thank for their situation. It wasn't long before new threats of dire retribution were being muttered down in the NASCAR paddock.

All of which should make things very interesting indeed for next weekend's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. While one of the four finalists for the 2015 Sprint Cup Series championship has been locked in, there are still three more places up for the taking - and one of them could be clinched as soon as seven day's time.

See full race results and updated Sprint Cup Championship standings.

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