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Winner Gordon Revels In His ‘Rock Star Moment’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2015
Jeff Gordon takes a bow after earning a victory and a berth in the four-driver final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

Jeff Gordon takes a bow after earning a victory and a berth in the four-driver final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jeff Gordon is no stranger to Martinsville Speedway’s victory lane, but perhaps his ninth trip in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 will be among his sweetest.

chase 15 logoWith his first victory this season and the 93rd of his illustrious career, Gordon has guaranteed himself a position in the title battle at Homestead; an opportunity to vie for a fifth championship. Yet, throughout Gordon’s final season, nothing has come easy for the No. 24 team.

Before Martinsville, they weren’t competitive at the tracks where they felt they should have been and when they were competitive they weren’t capitalizing.  Now, they emerge as the only Hendrick Motorsports team with a shot at the championship; the opportunity to produce a storybook ending to Gordon’s 23-year career.

“This is incredible,” an excited Gordon said. “This whole year has been. I can’t even put it into words. This is turning into one of these just incredible storybook finishes to this year, to this career.

“I made the announcement. I was just super emotional about it. Then we went to work. We were getting our butts kicked. We weren’t competing the way we wanted to. I had to check myself. I’m so proud of (crew chief) Alan Gustafson. He put me in check. That brought us back

Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team celebrate Sunday's victory at Martinsville Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team celebrate Sunday’s victory at Martinsville Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

together as a team, as a driver/crew chief, that communication. We started getting better and better ever so slightly every single weekend as a race team.”

Gordon’s opportunity to snatch another Martinsville victory came when Matt Kenseth, who was several laps down, clipped leader Joey Logano on lap 454 of the 500-lap race and sent them both into the wall. Gordon scooted underneath the wrecked cars and into the lead.

“I wasn’t ready for what Kenseth did to Logano,” the 44-year-old Gordon said. “I went by and I thought, ‘Wow! Did I just see that?’

“I also put myself in Matt’s shoes. I could relate to frustration getting the best of you. I didn’t blow a right-front tire like he did today, but I can relate. You might have some regrets later, but I understand why you make that choice at the moment.”

The race was stopped for 12 minutes 46 seconds while the track was cleared and then Gordon led for three laps before pitting for tires. He restarted the race in third behind Denny Hamlin and A.J. Allmendinger, respectively. When the race returned to green flag conditions Hamlin led for three laps before Allmendinger took charge. Allmendinger held the No. 1 position for 19 laps, including through the 17th of 18 caution flags, before Gordon took charge for good on lap 479. Gordon then survived a restart with two laps to go and a challenge from Jamie McMurray for the victory.

Afterwards, Gordon described the cool-down lap as “unreal”; that he couldn’t believe it. He considered executing a burnout when he returned to the frontstretch, but when he climbed from his car to get the checkered flag and saw the crowd’s reaction, he decided to remain, celebrate and enjoy the moment. Many fans joined those who had been seated on the frontstretch and provided Gordon with a thunderous ovation, eventually chanting Gor-don, Gor-don.  

“I don’t know what it feels like to be a rock star, but that’s as close as it can get, I think,” Gordon said. “That’s a rock star moment right there.”

For those who stayed for the celebration, Gordon honored them by going through a gate in the frontstretch catch fence and then walking along the railing high-fiving the fans.

“This is one of the finest moments I’ve ever had in my career,” Gordon continued. “Not my most emotional one. I’m not going to be able to hold it back at Homestead. I hope it’s because we’re doing something even more special than what we did here today.”     

Gordon noted that at one point he was close to not making The Chase. That was when he changed his objective for this year and he simply wanted to make it to the first round. Then it became each time something happened his goals were reset.

Now, Gustafson feels like he’s “playing with house money.”

 “I feel like we’re in a good position that we can go there and just put it all in, push it all in, go as hard as we can go, not be tight or calculated,” Gustafson explained.

“When you’re really, really good, like we were last year, you almost try not to mess it up instead of go win the race.  Now I don’t have that feeling at all. I kind of feel like we’re playing with house money. We’re a little bit of the wild card.  I’m embracing that and enjoying it.”

Gordon knew no one had picked him to make it into the final four at Homestead. Now, “I love that we just keep proving them wrong and finding a way to move on,” Gordon said with a smile.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2015
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