Observations• There cannot be more of a conflux of emotion for Hendrick Motorsports and owner Rick Hendrick than visiting Martinsville Speedway. It’s the site of Hendrick’s first win as a Sprint Cup Series owner and where his teams have won more races (22) than any other track in NASCAR. It’s also the site of the organization’s biggest tragedy when a team plane crashed on its way to a race at the track in fall 2004 and killed all 10 on board, including Hendrick’s son, brother and two nieces. Hendrick teams that win honor those killed in the crash each time in Victory Lane but to do so at Martinsville clearly means something very special and something those outside the organization may never fully understand.
• To those who think the only thing that matters in NASCAR is winning the championship, or think those who no longer have a chance to win the title no longer have reason to compete, I’d suggest replaying Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s celebration following his win Sunday at Martinsville and his interview afterwards. If there is an example of more genuine satisfaction in simply winning, I have not seen it.
• Earnhardt’s win already ensures at least two of the drivers competing in the season finale for the championship will get there based on points. Wins by non-Chase eligible drivers at Texas or Phoenix or both will open the door to producing a title fight at Homestead among the most consistent teams, long the sole method by which titles were won.
How the remaining Chase drivers fared:
1 . Jeff Gordon (4,044 points)
There was no win to lock Gordon into the Nov. 16 championship battle, but a second-place finish leaves him as highest in points among the remaining Chase drivers. Gordon’s charge to a possible victory was slowed by a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 191.
“I lost this race today because of my mistake on pit road,” Gordon said. “This one is one me.”
2. Ryan Newman (-3)
A team which has built its run in the Chase based on consistency is consistently finding themselves closer to the front as the season winds to a close. Newman took two tires on the final pit stop and charged from eighth to third in the final five laps.
“The strategy of two tires there at the end worked out good for us,” Newman said. “Right number of laps with the guys that stayed out, kept the guys behind us that had four tires.”
3. Joey Logano (-4)
Logano fifth-place finish continued his strong run during the Chase, which has included two wins and now six top-five finishes in the seven Chase races.
4. Matt Kenseth (-5)
Despite being involved in an early three-car wreck that left Kevin Harvick’s car with serious damage, Kenseth rebounded with a sixth-place finish that continues to keep him in the hunt for championship.
“I don’t blame (Harvick) for feeling that way honestly,” Kenseth said. “It was as mistake – he was an innocent bystander and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
5. Denny Hamlin (-7)
Hamlin led 68 laps but on the final restart with five laps remaining, he restarted sixth as three cars elected not to pit. He finished eighth.
“We’re running better than we’re finishing,” Hamlin said. “Other guys like Newman are finishing better than they’re running. That’s part of the deal – you’ve got to do it for all 500 laps.”
6. Carl Edwards (-20)
Edwards battled much of the race trying to stay on the lead lap but ran into serious trouble when he got caught up in the six-car wreck on Lap 437. He ended up finishing 20th.
7. Brad Keselowski (-31)
A pit road speeding penalty early in the race sent Keselowski to the rear of the field. A broken rear end gear late sent him to the garage for extensive repairs. He finished 31st.
8. Kevin Harvick (-33)
Harvick caught the worst of a three-car wreck on Lap 228 involving Kenseth and Tony Stewart. After repairs, he returned to the track and finished 33rd.
Chase drivers already eliminated:
9. Kyle Busch
10. A.J. Allmendinger
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
12. Jimmie Johnson
13. Greg Biffle
14. Kasey Kahne
15. Kurt Busch
16. Aric Almirola
Five key moments
1. Brad Keselowski was penalized for speeding on pit road on Lap 162 sending him to the rear of the field.
2. Both Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman were caught speeding on pit road on Lap 191 forcing each team to alter their strategy for the race.
3. Clint Bowyer moved into the lead on Lap 421 when he beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. off pit road. Earnhardt took the lead back on Lap 454.
4. Earnhardt appeared on his way to win when a wreck brought out a caution on Lap 490 and sent teams scurrying to come up with the right pit strategy.
5. Tony Stewart elected not to pit and held the lead on a restart with five laps remaining but Earnhardt, on four new tires, passed him with four to go and held on for the win.
Unofficial results and points standings