Jeff Gordon wins at Martinsville; Kenseth, Johnson tied for Chase lead

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Jeff Gordon is still in the hunt for a fifth Sprint Cup championship after claiming his first victory of the 2013 season in today’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger at Martinsville Speedway.

With less than 30 laps to go, Gordon was chasing leader Matt Kenseth through lapped traffic and with 21 laps to go, he got position on the inside of Kenseth going into Turn 1 and took the lead coming out of Turn 2.

Kenseth, who led a race-high 202 laps, would hang on to second by a nose over Clint Bowyer at the checkered flag, which Gordon took by a margin of .596 of a second. The victory ended a extended drought for Gordon, who had not won since the 2012 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“It’s hard to top what it feels like to win, especially when you’ve been through all of what this [No. 24] team has been through,” Gordon said to ESPN in Victory Lane. “I’m so proud of them for never giving up. We’ve shown it all year long and we’ve been through a lot, but this is making it all worth it.

“…At the end, I think it was a little too free. But every time I saw him slip a wheel, I tried to conserve my tires and drive the car real straight into the corner and off the corner. I was playing with brake bias and everything else, and I finally saw where he started struggling on the exit.

“I dove in there a couple times but I couldn’t quite make it – he drove in deep to protect his line and did a heck of a job…I didn’t know if we were going to get him, but it sure was awesome when we finally did.”

Despite the narrow loss, Kenseth was still able to pull into a tie with Jimmie Johnson for the lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with three races left to go; Johnson finished fifth today after pacing 123 laps.

“Jeff’s experience just got me,” Kenseth said about his battle with Gordon for the win. “I’m just not that experienced running up front here and I had something that was working, but I was hurting the rear tires and the front tires, too. It went away from me in the end. But it was a great race.”

As for Gordon, his victory moves him from fifth to third in the Chase at 27 points behind Kenseth and Johnson. Kevin Harvick is still fourth in the championship at 28 points back after a sixth-place run this afternoon.

More to come tonight…

F1 2017 driver review: Kimi Raikkonen

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Kimi Raikkonen

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 7
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 7
Best Finish: P2 (Monaco, Hungary)
Pole Positions: 1
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 205
Laps Led: 40
Championship Position: 4th

While this may have statistically been Kimi Raikkonen’s best campaign since his first year back in F1 in 2012, there is a good case for it being one of his most disappointing to date.

Raikkonen’s continued role at Ferrari has been questioned on a number of occasions, but the Finn looked capable of answering his critics heading into 2017 after impressing through pre-season testing as he appeared to get to grips well with the new-style cars.

But we soon grew accustomed to the same old story: flashes of potential, but otherwise an underwhelming, unsatisfactory campaign that saw Raikkonen be dwarfed by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s charge to his first pole position for over eight years in Monaco gave hope of a popular win, only for Ferrari to play its strategy in favor of title contender Vettel – why wouldn’t the team do so? – to leave him a disgruntled second.

While Vettel was able to impress at the majority of circuits, Raikkonen only looked strong at tracks that were unquestionably ‘Ferrari’ tracks, such as Hungary and Brazil. Like Vettel, Raikkonen should have racked up a good haul of points in Singapore, only for the start-line crash to sideline both Ferraris before they even reached Turn 1.

Again there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ in Malaysia had it not been for the spark plug issue on the grid, yet in Japan, Raikkonen was nowhere, finishing behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls.

Finishing just five points clear of Daniel Ricciardo despite having a much faster car for the best part of the season and the Red Bull driver’s own reliability issues sums up the disappointment of Raikkonen’s campaign.

He should have been an ally for Vettel in the title race by nicking points of Lewis Hamilton, much as Valtteri Bottas was doing for his Mercedes teammate. Instead, Raikkonen seemed to be tagging along for the best part of this season.

Season High: Pole in Monaco, his first since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

Season Low: Finishing a distant P4 at Spa – a circuit he made his own in the 2000s.