With three races remaining in the season the Sprint Cup standings couldn't be any closer, as Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are in a tie for the championship.
Despite Martinsville being a track where he traditionally has struggled, Kenseth led a race-high 202 laps and finished second to Jeff Gordon. The result was enough for Kenseth to erase a four-point deficit and move into a deadlock with Johnson, who finished fifth Sunday.
"Anything can happen, but man, we're in it, and we're going to three really good tracks, so hopefully we can perform here the next three weeks and have a race," Kenseth said.
The fifth-place finish was frustrating for Johnson, who consistently had one of the fastest cars but labored through an afternoon where track position often worked against him. Adding to Johnson's troubles was a post-race altercation with Greg Biffle, that saw the two have a confrontation on pit road.
Nevertheless, Johnson survived a caution-filled event and is very much in contention for a sixth series title. Kenseth does control the tiebreaker, which is based on the number of wins, as he has seven victories on the year to Johnson's five.
After collecting his first win of 2013, Jeff Gordon moved up two spots in the standings to third overall. Heading into next week's race at Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon is 27 points in arrears of the co-championship leaders, and one marker ahead of fourth-place Kevin Harvick.
Although he's going to need Kenseth and Johnson to each stumble considerably over the next three weeks, Gordon is still mathematically alive to win the title; a fact not lost on him.
"Of course we're in it," Gordon said. "Until we're mathematically out of it, we're in it. This was certainly a big moment, big day for us ... but it's pretty darned great for both those guys, as well. They performed very, very well again today. It's going to be tough to catch them.
"But all we can do, I think, is go out and perform at our best and just see what happens. The nice thing is that we're not doing the points racing right now, we're just going out and just trying to go out and win races and not think about protecting anything. It's just go and give it everything we've got."
Sprint Cup standings (33 of 36 races)
|7||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2238||-56||0|
|16||Martin Truex Jr.||892||-1402||1|
|20||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||827||-1467||0|