Martinsville Speedway was supposed to be where Matt Kenseth fell further behind Jimmie Johnson in the Sprint Cup standings
Instead, Kenseth nearly won the Goody's Headache Shot 500, and his runner-up finish was enough to move him into a points tie with Johnson with three races left in the season.
"I couldn't be much happier, but I am disappointed I got beat there at the end," Kenseth said. "I wish I could have done something a little better. I feel good about the weekend. I feel like we can go do some racing here in the next three weeks."
Having long struggled at Martinsville, and with the half-mile track one of Johnson's best, Kenseth was supposed to be at a decided disadvantage. But it was Kenseth who led the most laps (202) while Johnson had to rally to finish fifth. And his result Sunday matched the optimism Kenseth felt throughout the weekend.
In the spring Martinsville race, Kenseth led 96 laps and he was quick in every practice Friday and Saturday. This gave him confidence that he could win his first race at the half-mile, and with it, the grandfather clock trophy awarded to the winner.
"I know Jimmie is always the man here, and he's still the man here along with Jeff and Denny (Hamlin) for sure," Kenseth said. "But I really went to bed last night feeling like we had a chance to win the clock. I know that sounds crazy because I haven't had that many good runs here, but we ran good in the spring, we were terrific at Loudon which has always been my worst track and this has probably been my second‑worst track, and Jason and the whole group at JGR gave us such good cars to drive.
"I can't tell you where I knew we were going to finish or what we were going to do, but I felt like today we were going to have a shot to win."
The win didn't materialize as Kenseth struggled with slower cars in the closing laps unable to find the proper line, which opened the door for Jeff Gordon to slip by with 21 laps remaining.
"I was running by the curb all day, and that's what got me there," Kenseth said. "I never had enough breathing room on Jeff to move up and run the line that a lot of them were on entry to run higher and then drive straighter off the corner. And I think at the end of the day I hurt me. It made the car too tight."
The schedule set up favorably for Kenseth, as two of the year's final three races are at 1.5-mile tracks, beginning with next week's race at 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. This is a style of track Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing organization have dominated this season.
At similar size tracks at Las Vegas Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway Kenseth made the trip to Victory Lane. And teammate Kyle Busch won at Texas in April and at Atlanta Motor Speedway last month.
"I really felt like we got what it takes to race in the last three races," Kenseth said. I feel like when my team is at its best and we do everything right, I feel like we can race anybody at these next three tracks. I feel good about that."