Confident Gordon marches on to Martinsville
Oct. 23, 2014
NASCAR Wire Service
Claiming his last couple laps at Talladega were the most nerve-racking of his life, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon survived the unpredictable Alabama track to move on to the eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and continue his drive for five titles.
“It goes to show just how intense this is and how much this format has changed your mindset,” said Gordon, a 23-year NSCS veteran with 757 starts to his credit. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous through a race weekend than this past weekend. I’m kind of glad we experienced that. I’m glad we survived it.”
This weekend, the 43-year-old travels to a more welcoming site in the hunt for his elusive fifth title – Martinsville Speedway. Gordon, along with the other seven remaining Chase contenders – Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin - will be on equal ground as their points were reset to 4,000 following Talladega. A first-place finish in any of the next three races would automatically advance a member of the Eliminator 8 to the Championship Round race at Homestead.
Piloting the No. 24 AARP Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Gordon will go for his ninth victory at the .526-mile oval in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). He currently ranks tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for its wins lead among active drivers.
“My goal this whole year when I knew we had fast race cars and a shot at the championship was to get through this last (Contender) Round and to make it through to this (Eliminator) Round,” Gordon said. “This to me is where we’re going to shine. There’s such a very realistic chance for us to not only win a couple of these races coming up, but seriously get ourselves to Homestead with a real shot at winning this thing.”
At Martinsville, Gordon will have to contend with fellow championship-qualifying driver and track ace Hamlin. The No. 11 FedEx Toyota pilot boasts four wins at the Virginia track and claims the third-best average running position (9.0) and driver rating (109.6) there. He stated during Eliminator Media Day he would pick either Martinsville or Homestead to run “one race, heads-up for the championship.”
“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Hamlin said. “As average as our team has been in general this year, when we go into a short track where horsepower doesn’t matter, aero doesn’t matter – and it’s about the driver and mechanical setups – I feel like those are our strong suits.”
Wallace Jr. goes for fall repeat at Martinsville as he pays homage to Wendell Scott
Last season at Martinsville, Darrell Wallace Jr. made history.
The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver led the final 50 laps of the Kroger 200 all the way to the finish at the .526-mile oval to become the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race. His triumph occurred nearly 50 years after Wendell Scott became the first African-American victor of a NASCAR national series race at Jacksonville Speedway on Dec. 1, 1963.
Ironically, Martinsville is located about 30 miles east of Danville, Virginia – the late Scott’s hometown.
“This (win) means everything,” a teary-eyed Wallace said after the race. “This is an emotional win for me, especially to do it in Wendell Scott’s backyard. I love coming here to Martinsville. It’s always good to me. It finally paid off.”
Wallace will attempt to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ fall race at Martinsville again on Saturday in the Kroger 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). He finished second in the March event at “The Paperclip” after winning the pole.
For the race weekend, Wallace has decided to honor Scott and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Wallace will pay tribute to Scott at Martinsville by temporarily changing his red, white and black No. 54 Toyota Tundra to the No. 34 Toyota Tundra with a throwback blue and white paint scheme, reminiscent of the No. 34 car Scott drove. He will also sport a retro fire suit.
"I’m really excited to run the No. 34 Toyota Tundra this weekend at Martinsville to honor Wendell Scott’s Hall of Fame induction, as well as honor the entire Scott family,” Wallace said. “Martinsville is a track I have run well on and will always be special to me since I got my first win there last year.”
Championship implications are on the line for Wallace, who moved up to third in the standings after a ninth-place showing at Talladega. He trails series leader Matt Crafton by 28 points with four races left in the season.
The 21-year-old feels ready to further reduce his standings deficit on Saturday.
“Anytime you mention Martinsville, I get excited,” Wallace said. “Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) and the guys have worked really hard to give me the best Toyota Tundra, and I know if we unload with the same speed we have the last few races, we will be just fine. It’s time to get us another win and another Grandfather clock.”