Jeff Gordon wins at Martinsville Speedway
Johnson, Kenseth tied for points lead
Jeff Gordon claimed his first win of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season on Sunday with a victory in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
"There's nothing better than getting a clock at Martinsville," Gordon said of the grandfather clock awarded as a trophy to race winners at the track. "It's hard to top what it feels like to win."
He passed Matt Kenseth with 21 laps remaining in the 500-lap race and led the rest of the way to claim the win and clinch the season manufacturers' championship for Chevrolet.
Kenseth finished second, Clint Bowyer was third, Brad Keselowski fourth, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.
"I have nothing to complain about," Kenseth said of his runner-up finish. "You're always disappointed when you're running up front late (and don't win)."
Johnson entered the race with a four-point lead in the championship points standings, but after Kenseth led the most laps (202) in the race and finished three positions ahead of Johnson, the two drivers left Martinsville tied atop the standings.
"It's going to be a dog fight to the end," Johnson said.
Kenseth and Johnson were mainstays up front for the first 200 laps before pit strategies began to vary throughout the race field as a large number of cautions plagued the remainder of the event.
With Kenseth leading and Johnson second on a restart following a lap-218 caution, Johnson lost several spots on the restart, then gave up additional spots to head down pit road during a caution on lap 229.
Kenseth continued to move up, but after he lost the lead to Bowyer a few laps later, he fell back through the field, eventually dropping outside the top 10.
With Johnson and Kenseth no longer near the front, Bowyer and Gordon spent time in front of the pack. Gordon took the lead and Johnson rejoined him up front, restarting second following a caution that came out on lap 285.
Kenseth made multiple pit stops that prevented him from gaining track position but kept him on newer tires for later in the race. Johnson once again joined Kenseth back in the field after losing spots on another restart that following a lap-309 caution.
Gordon continued to lead, joined by the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, among others. In the final 140 laps, though, Kenseth worked his way back up to second in the running order and Johnson re-entered the top 10.
Gordon and Busch became mired back in the field after giving up top spots to pit stops.
Kenseth got back to the front and retook the lead from Hamlin on a restart with about 130 laps to go. On fresher tires, Gordon worked his way back up to second with 80 laps remaining. Johnson was third.
"I thought we had given it away a couple of times there," Gordon said.
Right after Gordon moved back to second, the yellow flag waved again for the final time. With Kenseth leading, Gordon took second on the restart. Kenseth and Gordon then battled side-by-side in lap traffic for several laps before Gordon was able to take the top spot for good with 21 laps remaining.
"Every time I saw him (Kenseth) slip a wheel, I just did whatever I could do to conserve the tires," Gordon said. "The tires really went away on us at the end."
Finishing sixth through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray.
NOTES: Gordon's win was his eighth at Martinsville, tying him with Johnson for most at the track among active drivers... Johnson had won the last two races at Martinsville at April and last October... The yellow flag waved 17 times, with 12 of those cautions coming after lap 200. The 17 yellow flags were the most of any race this season... Gordon's win was the 21st at Martinsville for Hendrick Motorsports.