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


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…

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”