Updated: October 28, 2013, 2:00 PM ET

Jeff Gordon Gets Back In The Game

Sprint Cup: 'It's going to be a dogfight to the end'

By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

NASCAR instituted its Chase for the Sprint Cup format because it was looking for closer championship finishes.

The powers-that-be in Daytona Beach struck it rich this year, because the title clash between Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson couldn't be any closer. They're tied at the top of the Sprint Cup standings with three races remaining.

In a delightful twist of irony, the guy who inspired the Chase (Kenseth) is pitted against the guy who has dominated the Chase era (Johnson). Making things more interesting, their closest competitor is Jeff Gordon, who is in the Chase as an unprecedented 13th driver and who still remembers that he would have won his fifth Cup championship in 2004 had the Chase format not been in place.

Gordon is 27 points back, followed by Kevin Harvick (minus-28) and Kyle Busch (minus-36), and Kenseth thinks all three of them still have a shot at the crown.

John Harrelson/NASCAR/Getty ImagesThe Chase for the Cup couldn't be any closer, with front-runners Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth door-to-door with three races remaining.

"I think if you're within whatever you can get in a race -- 48 points -- anything can happen," Kenseth said after finishing second to Gordon on Sunday in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

"If you're more than a race behind multiple drivers, I think that makes it tough, that's hard to overcome with three races to go. But as we've seen through the years, anything can happen."

Kenseth was in position to win a race that Johnson was tipped to dominate. But his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was unable to hold of Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet down the stretch.

It left the Wisconsin native feeling conflicted after the race. He had just scored a career-best finish on a track where his average result was 15.8, but he was kicking himself for allowing his rival to pass him in the closing laps.

"Whenever your team puts you in front for that last run and you're out there leading and you get beat, you're always a little bit disappointed," Kenseth said. "I just got beat by honestly experience and a better driver of this track. I was hesitant to change my line and do the things he was doing because what I was doing got me there. I just got too tight at the end, which I wish I could do it over. I got slowed up with some lapped cars and he got by.

"But overall it was a great day," he added. "It was an up-and-down day with our strategy and at times we got behind. But overall we had a really good car. I'm not as happy as Jeff, but happy to run second."

Gordon believes that the No. 24 team's resurgence actually started four or five weeks prior to the Chase. Although it took a ruling from NASCAR in the wake of the Richmond controversies to get him in, Gordon has performed magnificently in the Chase, culminating in his first win of the season on Sunday.

It was Gordon's eighth win at Martinsville, tying him with Johnson among active drivers.

"There's no better time to win races than right now, and to be able to carry that momentum," Gordon said. "I'm so proud to be third in the points. From where we started early in the season, heck, where we started in this Chase, to be third in points right now, I'm very proud of that."

Whether it's game over or gamesmanship, Gordon said he believes that the 27-point deficit to Johnson and Kenseth is too much to overcome in just three races.

"Let's be honest, we're all alive, but right now there's two that are in it," he said. "Our job is to go to Texas and make it three. We've got to put pressure on those guys. We're really thinking we've just got to go fight hard and see if we can't do something extraordinary. It's going to take an extraordinary three weeks for that to happen."

Meanwhile, Johnson didn't quite match his usual excellence at Martinsville but still managed to bring his Hendrick Chevrolet home in fifth place.

Johnson led 123 laps (second to Kenseth's 202), but it was a far cry from his dominance of the April Martinsville race, when the five-time Cup series champion led 346 laps and celebrated with a snide Tweet taunting his "haters."

Johnson also had to deal with an irate Greg Biffle after the race, with Biffle claiming that contact from Johnson tore off his Roush Fenway Racing Ford's rear bumper. Johnson told reporters that he didn't remember the incident and was mystified by Biffle's rage.

"It's been a great battle with the 20 car [Kenseth], and the 24 [Gordon] is really showing that he wants to be a part of this deal as well," Johnson said. "There are some other guys back there kind of close, so it's going to be a dogfight to the end.

"That's the way that I would want to go racing for a championship, and I know that's exactly what the fans want to see."

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