There are things that matter. A retiring champion seeking to go out in a blaze of glory. A 25-year old looking to complete his career redemption as well as claim a fourth straight checkered flag. An elder statesman who believes that young man deserves something a bit different.
Some things just do not matter. For example, in the XFINITY series, where Cup drivers have a second home, none of them matter except for a race winner and those actually running for a title. Same goes in Cup, as just eight drivers are eligible to try and chase down a championship. The winner always matters, no matter where they sit in the standings. As for the remainder, if you are not among the eight and did nothing to cause us to gasp, you do not matter.
It did matter when Chaser Kyle Busch went for a spin at Martinsville after claiming to have found water on the track just before the midpoint. He tagged Austin Dillon and fell into the middle of the field. Same for Carl Edwards, who got into the back of A.J. Allmendinger in the same incident as the accordion effect took over. Both had points to gain, and definitely something to lose. It mattered, and it also gave us a break from the monotony that was Martinsville for much of the day. Much of it, but surely not all of it, as we were to discover.
With 65 laps to go, a lot started to matter. Matt Kenseth got tangled up with Brad Keselowski and then got popped over to really pop Kurt Busch. It mattered that both Chasers had to go to the garage for repairs, and it mattered for Edwards, as the caution brought him back onto the lead lap. It mattered that Kenseth thought his last name was Hatfield, and Penske drivers were the McCoys.
Revenge is best-served cold as Kenseth gave us our best gasp moment. Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano, the guy who had dominated the race, passed the battered Kenseth, who was nine laps down. Kenseth said on the radio he thought his right front must have gone down, but it appeared for all the world that he purposely hooked the leader and bulldozed him straight into the wall. Anything with a Penske stamp on it appeared to be a target, and one had to wonder if even the Captain himself was safe.
Brian France thought Logano made a smart decision when he bumped Kenseth out of the way in Kansas. I wonder how smart he thought this hit was? Anyway, Matt got parked, as if his car or Logano’s was going anywhere fast after that. As to what the crowd thought of it, you would have thought Kenseth was an adopted Earnhardt with the ovation he received.
It was almost anti-climatic that Jeff Gordon finally won in his swan song season. Almost. He was near the front most of the day, and was the best after Logano’s departure, leading the final 22 laps to claim his 93rd career victory. The crowd at Martinsville roared their approval as the four-time champ claimed a final four berth for the Homestead showdown on November 22. Gordon shall retire with wins in all but three of his 23 full-time campaigns; in 1993, 2008, and 2010. He wants just one more win in one specific race before heading off to become one of the sport’s most articulate ambassadors
Amongst those who mattered, Rowdy overcame his earlier issue to claim fifth on Sunday, a position ahead of Martin Truex Jr., with Kevin Harvick in eighth. Edwards turned his return to the lead lap to a 14th place finish, but not that terribly far out of the running. As for Keselowski, Kurt, and Logano, they have some work to do.
As for Kenseth, they do promote the Chase as having a knockout format. Well, at Martinsville, Kenseth knocked Logano out. After Kansas, did anyone expect anything less? It is now up to Logano, along with Keselowski and Kurt, to pull themselves off of the canvas to answer the bell at Texas and Phoenix beyond that.
This column will not appear next week, but returns after Phoenix when we will know who will be joining Gordon in the battle for the championship. Who knows, maybe my return will come sooner than Matt’s.
1. JEFF GORDON – Win
2. KYLE BUSCH + 9
3. MARTIN TRUEX, JR. +9
4. KEVIN HARVICK +7
5. CARL EDWARDS -7
6. BRAD KESELOWSKI -24
7. KURT BUSCH -26
8. JOEY LOGANO -28