Jeff Gordon was stellar on long green flag runs during tonight’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, but a rash of late yellows proved costly to his attempt to earn his first win of the year.
Nonetheless, his second-place finish to winner Joey Logano enabled him to keep the Sprint Cup points lead for one more week by a margin of five points over Matt Kenseth, who placed fifth.
Gordon was running second to Kenseth when the caution came out with 33 laps to go for a tire issue involving Jimmie Johnson. But when the leaders came down pit road for service, the four-time Cup champion tried a bit of gamesmanship by allowing teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pass him for second coming out of the pits.
It was all in a bid to gain the coveted inside line, and it worked out – but only briefly. Off the restart with 25 laps to go, Denny Hamlin was spun out in Turn 3 to bring out the yellow and Gordon had fallen back to fourth by that point.
A blown engine from J.J. Yeley with 16 laps left would bunch up the field again for what would be the final restart of the night with nine laps left. Running third, Gordon and second-place Brad Keselowski applied heavy pressure to leader Kenseth.
But with five laps to go, Logano started to make his move to the front by passing Gordon in Turn 3. He then got past Keselowski and Kenseth on the next circuit to take the lead for good.
“Joey was in the right place there,” Gordon said. “He had a good short run car and we were battling it out. And Matt was making his car really super-wide, which you’ve got to do to try to win, and we were just battling hard.
“And it just didn’t come down the way that we needed it to. We needed a little bit longer run.”
But Gordon was still happy that he was able to mix it up for the win even in a less-than-ideal situation.
“It was a great battle,” he said. “Overall, I’m very happy with the results of this race team and the effort. I’m having so much fun. The pit stops were amazing tonight, we are leading the points and it’s just a matter of time before this team wins.”