Martinsville a must-win situation for Jeff Gordon

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Jeff Gordon’s drive toward a fifth Sprint Cup championship has hit some bumps in the road over the last couple of weeks.

Two weekends ago at Charlotte, Gordon finished a respectable seventh after starting from the pole. Unfortunately for him, all four of his main rivals in the Chase for the Sprint Cup – Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick – finished better than he did.

Then last Sunday at Talladega, Gordon finished 14th but had Busch, Harvick and Johnson beat him to the stripe (Kenseth finished 20th and lost his points lead to Johnson).

He’s been able to avoid calamity this post-season and that’s made him one of the legitimate contenders still standing with four races to go. But he has to overcome a sizable, 34-point gap to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson.

With that in mind, Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway shapes up as a must-win situation for Gordon, who has not taken a checkered flag this season. But he certainly knows how to emerge victorious at the Virginia short track, with seven wins there in his Sprint Cup career.

Granted, he hasn’t won at Martinsville since 2005. But even so, he’s still been an almost constant presence at the front with 12 Top-5s and 13 Top-10s in his last 15 races there. He has been every bit a force as Johnson, himself an eight-time M’Ville winner (tops among all active Cup drivers).

Naturally, that body of work has him and his No. 24 team feeling confident.

“We come in here feeling really good about this race track and our race team,” Gordon said today before qualifying ninth for Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger.

“We have had a lot of positive things that have happened to us over the last six weeks. Then to come with a good feeling about where we are at as a race team and our race cars and come into one of my favorite race tracks – a track that we have had good results at, not only in the past, but this year – it definitely is something that we come into very excited about.”

But with time running out and the competition stiff as ever, Gordon can’t settle for a Top-10. Heck, a Top-5 might not be enough unless the ones he’s chasing for the title run into trouble.

To keep his championship hopes alive, he has to get the No. 24 to P1 after 500 laps on Sunday.

Supercross: Haiden Deegan debuts in 250s at Houston, Justin Cooper graduates to 450 class for Star Yamaha

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Rising star Haiden Deegan will make his Monster Energy Supercross debut in Houston, Texas with Yamaha Star Racing while the 2021 250 West champion Justin Cooper graduates to 450s.

Deegan, the son of motocross and off-road legend Brian Deegan and brother of NASCAR Truck Series driver Hailie Deegan, made two starts in the Pro Motocross outdoors season last year. He finished 31st overall at the Ironman Nationals in Crawfordsville, Indiana and was 13th at Fox Raceway in the season-ender at Fox Raceway in Pala, California, but the overall results did not necessarily reflect how well he ran. In both events, he challenged for top-10s during portions of the week and actually finished 10th in one of the Pala motos.

Last week, Haiden finished fifth in the Supercross 250 Futures in Anaheim 2.

“We’re really excited to get the season on the East Coast started,” said Monster Energy Team Manager Jensen Hendler in a press release. “It’s also exciting to have Haiden move up to join our pro program this season and to have Justin make his debut on the 450. The guys have been working hard and are looking forward to seeing what they can do this weekend in Houston.”

After scoring a 250SX Futures podium, Talon Hawkins gets 250 East ride.

Deegan will join Nate Thrasher and Jordon Smith in the 250 East division this week.

Cooper moves into the 450 class this weekend. According to Supercross rules, after winning the 2021 championship, he had one season to defend his title and then would be required to move up a class. Cooper missed all of last year to injury.

Cooper was healthy when the outdoor season started and he earned five podiums and nine top-fives in 12 rounds. Three of these races ended in runners-up finishes, at Hangtown, in Rancho Cordova, California, Washougal, Washington and Unadilla, New York.

Cooper joins Eli Tomac and Dylan Ferrandis in the 450 class and will race select events.

Justin Cooper learned to temper aggression with speed

Cooper’s Houston attempt will be the first of an undisclosed number of races he will compete in during the 2023 season.

“It’s been about two years since I’ve lined up for a supercross, and now it’s in a new class with the best guys, so I’m excited to just get out there,” Cooper said. “I’m looking to get back under the lights and learn what I can. Overall, I’m just really excited to be in the position to be out there, so I’m going to make the most of it and enjoy it!”

Deegan and Cooper will be part of a seven-rider Supercross lineup for Yamaha Star Racing. Nick Romano will debut in the 250 East division later this year.