A steady morning rain moved out of Martinsville Speedway just in time for the start of this afternoon’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500. Short track racing often creates high drama and this afternoon was no different at the famed Virginia track known as the “paper clip”.
When it was over, just before darkness settled on Martinsville, Denny Hamlin would lead Joe Gibbs Racing with a third place finish, while Kyle Busch finished fifth, Carl Edwards 14th and late race accidents left Matt Kenseth back in 38th.
This was the first race of the Eliminator Round of 8 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The field will be reduced to just four teams following the next two races at Texas and Phoenix respectively. A final Championship Four will compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22. By virtue of his win this afternoon, Jeff Gordon is the first to qualify for the final four. Busch is currently second in points just eight back of the leader Gordon, while Edwards sits in fifth, 17 points behind.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota in eighth and was trying to hold a spot in the top 10 before a pit road speeding penalty on lap 53 forced him to drop to the back of the pack. Hamlin would try and work his way back toward the front but was caught up in a wreck and spun on lap 112. He would pick up some damage to the nose of the FedEx Camry and would pit on lap 129 under caution for repairs. Hamlin would patiently work his way back inside the top 20 and was 15th by lap 225. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Hamlin would line up 11th for a restart on lap 242. He would run 13th on lap 300, but was able to drive his way back inside the top five by lap 350. He was running fourth when a caution came out on lap 375. He would run seventh at lap 400, but another pit road speeding penalty on lap 420 would send him to the back of lead lap cars once again. However Hamlin proved once again why he is considered one of the best at this short track as he drove his way back to the front yet again. He would earn a solid third-place finish.
Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota in sixth position and was patient through the early going as he worked to hold a spot in the top ten. He would restart eighth on lap 120. Kyle would continue to hold a spot inside the top 10 when he got loose after running through water that was left from the rain earlier in the day and made contact with the 3 car causing damage to the right front of his Camry car on lap 172. The M&M’S Crispy crew would make quick repairs allowing Busch to restart 26th on lap 180. He would race his way back inside the top 15 to run 14th by lap 220 and was inside the top ten by lap 235. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Busch would line up ninth for a restart on lap 242. He would run eighth on lap 300. A caution on lap 375 would bring the leaders back down pit road and Busch would line up seventh for the ensuing restart. He would run eighth at lap 400. Busch would avoid any trouble over several late restarts to earn a solid fifth-place run.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 XFINITY Toyota in the 14th position and showed patience through the early going as he battled for position inside the top 15. He was fighting to move his way into the top ten when he his teammate Busch would get loose in front of him causing the 47 to check up directly in front of Edwards. Edwards would make hard contact with the back of the 47 resulting in significant damage to the nose of his XFINITY Camry. The 19 team would make quick repairs to get the hood back down and amazingly Edwards would remain on the lead lap and restart 29th on lap 180. He would run 24th on lap 225 while battling tight handling conditions. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Edwards would line up 23rd for a restart on lap 245. He would climb back inside the top 20 to run 19th on lap 300, but fell a lap down to the leaders on one of the longer green flag runs of the race. Edwards would run 20th at lap 400, but managed to earn the lucky dog to get back on the lead lap when a caution came out on lap 436. From there he was able to drive his way back into the top 15 to earn a 14th-place finish.
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota from the 18th position and patiently worked his way toward the front of the field over the course of the first 100 laps. Some quick work by the Dollar General crew on pit road helped his track position and allowed him to restart fourth on lap 112. He would continue to hold a spot in the top 10 but pitted under caution while many other leaders remained out on the track leaving him to restart back in 26th on lap 190. The loss of track position did little to deter Kenseth however and he drove his way back inside the top 10 on the ensuing green flag run. He was up to eighth by lap 225. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Kenseth would line up fifth for a restart on lap 242. He would work his way into second by lap 255. Another caution would bring him back down pit road but a broken air gun would cost the team several spots and he would restart back in 16th on lap 284. He would work his way back up to run 12th on lap 300 and ran 10th when a caution came out on lap 375. Kenseth would line up 11th for the restart following a round of pit stops. He would run 12th at lap 400. Kenseth would work his way back to the front of the field and was running back inside the top five on lap 436 when the 2 car got loose and came up into the 20 causing an accident that left significant damage to the Dollar General Camry. The crew made major repairs on pit road to keep Kenseth on the track but a few laps later he would get into the 22 car and this time the damage would send him to the garage. He would officially finish back in 38th.
Jeff Gordon captured the win, followed by Jamie McMurray, Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. There were 18 cautions for a total of 109 laps and 21 lead changes among nine different drivers.
The second race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will take place next week at Texas Motor Speedway. NBC will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 1:30 PM (race begins at 2:15 PM ET).