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Winston Cup Series




Monday, October 20
Updated: October 24, 2:40 PM ET
Points race and pit road
By Mike Massaro
ESPN

Mike Massaro The Martinsville, Va., region is the hub of the America's furniture manufacturing industry, So it seems only appropriate that Sunday's Subway 500 has furnished us with plenty to talk about this week.

Perseverance award: The way Dale Jarrett's weekend went, it seemed like he was a lap down before he even arrived in Martinsville.

On Friday, he crashed during qualifying and was forced to a backup car and provisional starting position for Sunday's race. In the first 400 laps he spun twice and was assessed a penalty for a pit road infraction. Still, he got up on the wheel and clawed his way to an impressive 11th-place finish.

Championship turning point: A combination of good fortune and solid strategy has brought Matt Kenseth one step closer to the Winston Cup Championship.

On lap 231, Kenny Wallace spun and brought out the caution. This was a break for Kenseth who was on the verge of making a green flag pit stop and undoubtedly losing a lap because of a flat tire. Instead, he was able to make the change under yellow, keeping him in contention.

Late in the race, crew chief Robbie Reiser called Kenseth to pit road while most of the leaders stayed out. They changed two tires, came out 16th and were able to pick up three positions in the closing laps.

"I feel great. I feel like I just won the race because this was a big hurdle for us," said Kenseth. "We really struggle here and to finish 13th here is a great job by these guys. I'm usually never happy finishing 13th, but overall it was great day for all of the DeWalt guys."

Kenseth now has a 240-point advantage over Kevin Harvick with four races to go. The earliest Kenseth could clinch would be Phoenix but he will need to leave there with a lead of 371 points or more. If he leaves Phoenix with an advantage of 303 or more all he'll need to do is start the final two races to wrap up the title.

Race controversy: Kenny Wallace's spin on lap 231 set the stage for the day's strangest occurrence.

The caution flew and the field streamed down the backstretch on the following lap. As the leaders neared Turn 3, pit road was opened catching a few off-guard. Not realizing that pit road was opened, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick -- positions first through third -- bypassed pit road. Meanwhile, the drivers from fourth on back did see the signal and proceeded to make their stops.

The three drivers and their teams were irate, calling into question the fairness of NASCAR's decision. Each contended that the flag signaling the opening of pit road waved too late for them to react. Nonetheless, NASCAR stood by its call.

The situation forced the three teams to make a difficult decision. Either forfeit vital track position by pitting the next lap or gamble and stay out front with tires that were 40 or so laps older than most other cars on the lead lap. The decision was unanimous, each driver stayed out.

Those who stopped for tires, Tony Stewart in particular, were much faster in the ensuing laps. Busch, Earnhardt and Harvick were each passed; however, their gamble to stay out paid off when Dave Blaney brought out the caution on lap 274. Once again, the majority of the field pitted for service, balancing everything out and preserving Busch, Earnhardt and Harvick's positions on the lead lap.

History lesson: As Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson ran first and second midway through Sunday's race, car owner Rick Hendrick was reminded of 1990. During that year's Goody's 500 in Martinsville, two of his drivers -- Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader -- wrecked each other while racing for the win.

Hendrick knows those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it, which inspired him to issue warnings to Gordon and Johnson during Sunday's Subway 500.

"I think Jimmie said something like, 'well when I get to (Gordon) I'm gonna have to rough him up a little bit,'" said Hendrick. "They were kidding but I said to them we went through that with Rudd and Schrader about ten years ago and you wouldn't want to be in the meeting we had Monday morning."

The message may have been tongue and cheek, but there was an element of seriousness to it. Short track racing sometimes requires contact to insure success, and Gordon understands that.

"As tough as it is to pass at this place sometimes it is necessary to make contact," Gordon said. "It was our job to make sure we got our car out there as far away from (Johnson) as possible. I believe in short track racing. If they can get to your bumper then you haven't done a good enough job. And if they can get to your bumper then they have every right to nudge you and move you out of the way."

Hendrick Motorsports has scored seven victories this season with four different drivers. But with Gordon's win and Johnson's runner up performance Sunday marked the first one-two finish for Hendrick this season.

Number of the week: 10. That's the number of consecutive seasons in which Jeff Gordon has had multiple wins. Sunday's victory was his second this season. He hasn't had less than three wins in any year since 1994.

Silly Season notes: Johnny Benson, who appears to be out of the Valvoline Pontiac at season's end, says he is not sure what his future holds. It was reported last week by the Charlotte Observer that Busch Series driver Scott Riggs will move to the Nextel Cup Series next season, joining MB2/Valvoline Motorsports and will likely drive the 10 car currently driven by Benson. Early speculation is that Benson could end up with Petty Enterprises.

Evernham Motorsports has been the center of various rumors lately but team owner Ray Evernham wants to put one of them to rest. During an interview for RPM2Day he made it clear that his team will definitely field two cars full time next season. There were rumors that he would field just one.

Mike Massaro covers NASCAR for ESPN and ESPN.com.

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