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Gordon, Martin see potential victory smashed

July 05, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Hendrick duo stuck together all race, but impatience sends both of them spinning

Leave it to Mark Martin to epitomize what might've been the feelings of a third of the field in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Martin, who through the years has made no secret of his distaste for restrictor plate racing, said, "It was going to come to this at the end, but it was a blast 'til the end."

Jeff Gordon gets spun in the closing laps at Daytona. (Autostock)

Wild finish


After a somewhat clean race, all sorts of carnage broke out late in the Coke Zero 400.

Martin had good reason to be a little disgruntled -- as did at least 17 other competitors -- after three big accidents in the race's final 12 laps radically affected the finishing order. Martin himself, who had a legitimate shot to win in conjunction with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, ended up 33rd, six laps down to first-time winner David Ragan.

"Just a lot of wild racing there at the end," Martin said, after stopping briefly to do a couple TV interviews. "Jeff Gordon did an awesome job of working with me and I thought we were doing really, really good and he just got run into."

That was the first accident, with less than three laps to go in the 160-lap event, when a three-deep pack of two-car tandem drafters entered Turn 3. Kyle Busch, being pushed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano, was against the wall; Martin and Gordon were in the middle and Red Bull Racing teammates Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers were on the bottom.

"It's just so many cars wide and you can't be courteous," Martin said. "You can be courteous the first three-fourths of the race but you just can't be courteous at the end. So when you get four- or five-wide somebody's going to make a move that squeezes somebody else -- not intentional, but it's just what we do.

"It was just the late stages of the race. It would have been OK but somebody had to get wise and get on the outside of me and that made it four- or five-wide, you know? I was up pretty close to the wall and that made it too many cars wide for trying to do what we were trying to do.

"Somebody got pushed up into Jeff and I and we didn't have room to move up because somebody had squeezed up on the outside of us. I got off of Jeff -- I never touched Jeff. I got off of him because I could see that a wreck was about to happen. But they wrecked."

For his part, Gordon was ecstatic to finish sixth, but from a company standpoint he could only wonder "what if" after he made one of the saves of his career after contact from Kasey Kahne in the accident referenced by Martin -- which was followed by two more that each involved 15 cars -- in the 10-lap "overtime."

"I hate that that happened -- whoever got into Kasey Kahne -- but in those closing laps, what, there were three to go?" Gordon said. "You know that stuff's going to happen. So I didn't like being in the middle at that point, but you just have to stay wide open and go for it.

"You know in the closing laps here with the two-car draft it's going to get wild and crazy."

In that wreck at Lap 159, Gordon got tipped into a long slide through Daytona's 31-degree banking that saw his car completely sideways, but he never completely spun out.

"I'd have to go back and look at it," Gordon said, laughing when asked where that rated in career saves. "When you're on the banking on these types of race tracks, depending on the momentum and how the slide goes -- I felt it coming and I got in the gas to try to keep me out of the wall -- and then I locked the brakes down knowing I wanted to just slide down and not back up in the wall.

"But then I felt it start to catch and lose momentum and it started to straighten out. The banking pretty much did most of the work -- maybe a little side force in the car, too. We were just lucky we didn't get hit, I straightened it up and away we went. That was pretty cool and pretty lucky all at the same time."

But after the race went into overtime, Gordon was set to restart about 29th and even though Martin lined up 10th, one spot behind Joey Logano, they were the first two cars that had lost their drafting partners.

"Jeff Gordon did an awesome job of working with me and I thought we were doing really, really good and he just got run into.""

--MARK MARTIN

"I'd already lost my man, Jeff, in the earlier accident and we had talked to Logano and I thought we were gonna try to hook up there, because I thought he didn't have anybody [to pair up with] either," Martin said. "I don't know how many wide we were there, [but] I thought we had room to get in front of him, so we could go.

"He got up against me and I got a little loose and I could've saved it, but there was just too many cars. There were cars everywhere and they all started clacking together and so the wreck was on."

From Logano's perspective, where he was going was never in question.

"On a restart like that I didn't have no friends and [Martin] didn't either," Logano said. "I was going to try to shoot through that gap and see if someone could push me. I was shooting down the center and Mark was trying to come down in front of me and it could have gone either way. I could have backed off a little bit and let him in but it was the end of the race -- I was wide-open and I didn't care, and he was coming down across me.

"We were going to try to team up there and if we were able to do that, I was going to go in there with guns blazing and see what happened on the other side and try to find a partner when we got over there. Just a racing deal and I probably could've done something to stay out of it. [It was] no one's fault, really, and either one of us could have done something to avoid it."

But they didn't, and it left both Martin and Gordon ruing the outcome.

"[Gordon] restarted 31st and finished sixth, so sure -- anybody had a chance to win," Martin said. "You never know."

Gordon was a little more certain.

"Mark and I had a great shot," Gordon said. "The only thing -- a couple frustrating things for me [Saturday], we got a little bit too far back and it happened so quick. We were running along and two cars got side-by-side, doing a switch and we had to check up -- we lost the draft and lost the momentum and from that point on we were fighting, trying to not overheat the engine yet trying to catch those guys.

"We gained maybe a second-and-a-half and then we did that two-tire stop [at Lap 135] and once you start gaining you knew we had a shot at at least a top-five -- I don't know if we had a shot at the win, and then we really got right in the mix.

"I'm just amazed that we were able to come back to sixth. We were what, 30th, 31st on that second-to-last restart?"

Gordon did manage to pick up a spot in the standings, to eighth.