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Monday Rundown: Gordon's win wasn't easy, Chase math is

Jeff Gordon has nine grandfather clocks for winning at Martinsville. Retiring at the end of the season, his biggest career goal left is a fifth Cup title. Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

Hard to imagine, but Jeff Gordon's victory in the Goody's Headache Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway will probably go down in the annals as a footnote to the drama from the Matt Kenseth/Joey Logano clash.

But the popular result was a very big deal in several ways.

Aside from being Gordon's 93rd win in the Cup Series (and record ninth at Martinsville), the clutch performance established the driver of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as the first of four drivers to qualify for the Championship Round of this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The timing couldn't have been better. In the absolute twilight of his long and storied NASCAR career, Gordon and the No. 24 team turned around a generally subpar season and put themselves in position to create the "walk-off moment" that Gordon has often spoken of since announcing that 2015 would be his last season of full-time competition in the Cup Series.

"Man, this has turned into a fairy-tale year," Gordon said in a Victory Lane interview. "Homestead [Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the Nov. 22 title decider] is going to be unbelievable."

That Gordon won again at Martinsville is no surprise. With 37 top-10s in 46 starts and an average finish of 6.76, no active driver has a better career record at any track on the NASCAR schedule.

In his final start at "The Paper Clip," Gordon showed why he is so successful there. He qualified near the front in fifth place, then drove a mistake-free race that put him in position to capitalize on the misfortune that so often befalls others at Martinsville.

This time, the key to Gordon's victory was Brad Keselowski colliding with Matt Kenseth on a restart with 65 laps to go, sweeping in Kurt Busch. Kenseth subsequently blamed damage from that accident for his erratic driving that took out Logano in a controversial accident some 20 laps later.

"You can't ever count us out at Martinsville," Gordon said. "I've got to tell you, the 2 [Keselowski], the 22 [Logano], the 4 [Kevin Harvick], man, they were strong today -- stronger than I thought they were going to be.

"But you know what?" he continued. "You've got to be there at the end to win these races, especially here at Martinsville. They weren't there. We were. For whatever reason, we were, they weren't, and here we are."

Once those guys encountered their various troubles, Gordon was left to fight off A.J. Allmendinger and then Jamie McMurray. McMurray eventually finished second for Chip Ganassi Racing.

"For me, Jeff Gordon is the only die-cast or T‑shirt that I ever bought growing up before I made it to NASCAR," McMurray said. "So it was really a cool moment for me to get to battle with him on a green‑white‑checkered at Martinsville.

"I certainly wish it would have turned out a little bit differently, but that's a really good memory for me and a very good moment that I will not forget."

In a topsy-turvy day for the Chase grid, Harvick and Kyle Busch proved masterful at damage control after being swept into incidents of their own in the race.

Busch was fortunate not to cause too much damage to his car when he spun on a patch of moisture on the track early in the 500-lap enduro. He rebounded to finish fifth.

"That was my bad," he admitted. "I bent up the front end of the car and it was just never right from there on out, but we persevered and we just made the changes that we needed to make for this car for our conditions that we had."

Harvick, viewed by many as the championship favorite heading into the Chase, was the victim of some pit-lane gamesmanship as drivers tried to put themselves in position to avoid being stuck in the outside lane for restarts.

Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch collided in a traffic jam at the pit exit, bending the fender on Harvick's Chevrolet enough to cause a tire rub. Mindful that a similar situation led to a cut tire and a crash in the opening Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway, crew chief Rodney Childers called his driver in for repairs and Harvick dropped to the tail of the lead lap.

"It was a good call to come back in," Harvick said after recovering to finish eighth.

That's because he was out of harm's way for the subsequent restart, when Penske teammates Logano and Keselowski failed to cleanly orchestrate a restart. Kenseth, racing hard with revenge on his mind after being crashed by Logano two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, found Keselowski unwilling to yield and their crash swept in Kurt Busch.

"We just got caught up and we were a victim," Busch said. "We were someone else's collateral damage.

"It's a product of how everybody has to race in this Chase."

That wreck set the stage for Kenseth to wreck Logano shortly after the Team Penske Ford put the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 10 laps down.

"It's just that time of year where everything has really raised the intensity level up and it's three weeks to go," Harvick observed. "You never know what happens around here at Martinsville."

While Gordon's win gives him automatic entry into the final four at Homestead, the other three slots are still unclaimed. Race winners at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway will also gain transfers to the Championship Round if they are still alive in the Chase. Non-Chasers won at Martinsville and Texas last year before Harvick avoided elimination with a win at Phoenix, but the other three drivers that made it into the final -- Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman -- made it on points.

Sitting 28 points out of fourth place after finishing 37th on Sunday, Logano has the most ground to make up. Kurt Busch is 26 points behind Harvick, who lies fourth in the Chase standings right now.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. (sixth place at Martinsville) are nine points to the good coming out of Martinsville. Carl Edwards (14th on Sunday) is the current fifth-place driver, seven points behind Harvick.

Last year at Texas, Gordon was at the center of the storm, furious about the way Keselowski raced him late in the race.

This year, thanks to a memorable final win at Martinsville, he can relax and enjoy one of the final stops on what he refuses to call a retirement tour.

"It wasn't given to us, I can tell you that," Gordon said. "We certainly had some help.

"But that would not be the first time I've had help winning a race at Martinsville. That's kind of how races go sometimes."

Xfinity Series: Running to the finish

The NASCAR Xfinity Series was idle for the second weekend in a row as it recharges for the three-race sprint to the finish, starting with the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chris Buescher carries a 27-point lead over defending Xfinity champion Chase Elliott into the final trio of races. Regan Smith (-33) and Ty Dillon (-36) remain in championship contention.

Camping World Truck Series: Championship tightens

Matt Crafton substantially cut into Erik Jones' Camping World Truck Series championship lead with a timely victory at Martinsville Speedway.

Crafton, who has earned half of his 10 career Truck Series victories during the 2015 season, led the last 63 laps and had to overcome no fewer than five restarts in that span.

The two-time defending Truck Series champion beat John Hunter Nemechek by 0.396 of a second.

"We've had a very trying last two months, but to get back to Victory Lane is awesome," said Crafton, who narrowed his gap to Jones to 10 points. "These guys just never give up. We weren't that great on the short run, but like I said, I never give up on these guys. They keep fine-tuning and fine-tuning. I just had to pace myself and save enough tires for the end of the race.

"This is very big, but we have a long ways to go."

Tyler Reddick finished fifth to remain within 13 points of Jones, who struggled throughout the Martinsville race on the way to 10th place.

Jones endured several fender-banging incidents, including one with Kyle Busch Racing teammate Daniel Suarez.

"It's disappointing, for sure," Jones said. "This team is capable of a lot more than that but we missed it a little bit as an organization. I think it showed, we were just off most of the day for the three trucks.

"We'll work on it and get it better."

The Truck Series is part of a triple-header bill with the Sprint Cup Series and the Xfinity Series as the NASCAR season concludes over the next three weeks.