Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

Jeff Gordon grabs sentimental NASCAR victory amid Kenseth-Logano controversy

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — As the adoring crowd lingered in the darkness at Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon took a moment to soak it in.

In a sparkling 23-year career, his victory Sunday overwhelmed the NASCAR great. He had just earned a spot in the Chase for the Championship finale, a shot at an elusive fifth title. It was, in his mind, "one of my finest moments I've ever had."

So Gordon, who at 44 celebrated his ninth Martinsville win by jumping along the track like a little boy on Christmas morning, climbed into the grandstands to celebrate with fans.

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

He has Matt Kenseth to thank.

Kenseth intentionally wrecked Joey Logano — payback from three races ago — to take the leader out with 47 laps left in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500. Kenseth, 10 laps down after an earlier wreck with Brad Keselowski, Logano's Team Penske teammate, drove Logano into the wall in Turn 1.

Logano, who led 207 of 500 laps, was furious. His father, Tom, had to be held back by the crew chief as the crowd wildly cheered Kenseth.

NASCAR chairman Brian France has championed on-track incidents, but Kenseth could be sanctioned because he was not racing for the win.

"(In) our minds, that's a little bit different than two drivers really going after it coming out of Turn 4 for a win," said Steve O'Donnell, head of NASCAR's racing operations.

Denny Hamlin, who last week accused Kevin Harvick of deliberately causing an accident to preserve his spot in the Chase field at the expense of himself and Kenseth, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, said the level of aggression is out of hand.

"It's a no-holds-barred, Wild, Wild West," Hamlin said. "…I love Brian France, but when he says that drivers are 'doing what they have to do,' it seems like he's promoting this type of racing. That's tough to crown a true champion when things go like this."

Logano finished 37th and is last in the eight-driver Chase; Keselowski is sixth after finishing 31st.

There are two races left for the rest of the final four to be set.

Kenseth led late on Oct. 18 at Kansas when Logano, who had already clinched advancement into this phase of the Chase, spun him out of the way for the win. Kenseth has been furious since.

"I think what happened at Kansas is a completely different deal," Logano said Sunday. "We were racing for the win and he blocks you a few times and then we raced hard and he blocked me the last time and we spun out. Here it was just a complete coward move, especially for a championship race car driver and race team. … It's a chicken-you-know-what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over."

Kenseth initially tried to downplay the incident.

"You never like to be in these situations," he said, eventually hinting at the obvious, that his move was done in retaliation. "They really stink, to be honest with you, but sometimes you get put in these spots and you've got to try to keep respect in the garage area."

Gordon didn't mind all the chaos after his first win this season and 93rd in his career. The best part was knowing that in his final race, Nov. 22 at Homestead, he'll be in contention for his fifth title and first since 2001.

"Yeah, we had a few things that fell in our favor," Gordon said. "But you've got to be there and be ready for that moment when it comes, and we were."

NHRA: Antron Brown and Erica Enders wrapped up season titles at the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. Brown won his second Top Fuel crown by winning one more round than Tony Schumacher. Enders secured a second straight Pro Stock title when she won in the quarterfinals as Greg Anderson lost. Enders went on to earn her ninth victory this season; Brown lost in the semifinals to eventual winner Doug Kalitta. Robert Hight won in Funny Car and Andrew Hines topped Pro Stock Motorcycle, the only two major classes with titles to be settled in the finale, Nov. 12-15 in Pomona, Calif.

Formula One: Nico Rosberg captured the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City for his fourth victory this season, denying Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton a chance to tie the series record of 13 victories in a season. Hamilton clinched his third world championship last week.

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