One year ago, Jeff Gordon scored a storybook win at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway in what was his final full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and what everyone thought was his final Martinsville start.
With Dale Earnhardt, Jr. being sidelined for the second half of the 2016 season while recovering from a concussion, Gordon made a return to the cockpit in Earnhardt’s No. 88 car and came into Sunday at Martinsville for one last ride at the track where he has had so much success throughout his career.
“It’s exciting to be back. I love this track. Obviously, I have amazing memories from this race last year. I guess there was a part of me that wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back and take away from that, but at the same time I’ve always said if there is one track that I feel like I could get back in the car and feel comfortable and competitive it’s this track. For that I’m happy that I’m here,” said Gordon prior to Sunday’s race.
After starting 10th, Gordon showed that he still had what it took to run among the leaders at Martinsville, keeping his Chevrolet in the top-10 for the duration of the race and bringing home a sixth place finish as a result of that. Though Gordon wasn’t able to score a walk-off win like he did in 2015, his finish on Sunday was his best finish of the eight races that he competed in this season.
“Well, I had a lot of fun out there. It is great to be here in front of all these awesome short track and Martinsville NASCAR fans. It’s just a special place to me and I had a lot of fun and had a great car. This No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet was really good. I knew we didn’t have the short run speed for some of those Gibbs cars. I don’t know where Jimmie (Johnson) came from, wow; he is just so good here. You get him out front like that and he is just unbelievable. Congratulations to those guys stamping that victory and getting them to Homestead that is amazing just like we did last year,” said Gordon.
“Had to overcome a lot of adversity, but that last run I don’t know if it was from running so many caution laps there trying to figure out the scoring, which was kind of a disaster, but that was a tough one for NASCAR to figure out. I don’t know if that had an effect on our tires or what, but the car just didn’t feel the same on that last run and had to settle for sixth.”
After the completion of Sunday’s race, Gordon’s Martinsville statistics now stand at nine wins, 29 top-five finishes, 38 top-10 finishes, seven poles, 3779 laps led, and an average finish of 6.7 in 47 starts.
Martinsville may have been Gordon’s final start of the 2016 season, but it still remains to be seen if Gordon will make a return to the cockpit anytime in the future.
“Your guess is as good as mine. I can promise you I had no intentions of this happening, but here I am. Never say never is all I know what to say (laughs). I really don’t think that I will be getting back in the Cup car again, but go ask Rick Hendrick. That really has more to do with him than anything else.”