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Martinsville lookback: Jeff Gordon’s final victory

Ahead of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) — the first race in the Round of 8 — we take a look back at the previous four fall Martinsville races in the elimination-style playoffs format. All produced incredible wins and epic celebrations, with long-lingering impacts. We expect the same on Sunday.

Today, we look back at Jeff Gordon’s 2015 win, which would be the final of his career.

Previous: Dale Jr. in 2014

The scene

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolled into Martinsville Speedway for the first race in the Round of 8 with a star-studded field of drivers.

The postseason field dwindled down from 12 to eight after the elimination of Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. That left Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch on an even points playing field with three races to decide who would make it to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Racing in his final full-time season, Gordon in particular was hungry for one more championship run. Logano was the one on a hot streak, though, having swept all three races in the Round of 12 at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega. The No. 22 Penske team appeared to be the championship favorite in the season’s final stretch.

But the postseason hadn’t been all drama-free for Logano. His victory at Kansas came after he got into the back of race leader Kenseth with five laps to go, sending Kenseth into the outside wall in Turn 1, allowing Logano to cruise to his second win in the playoffs.

Kyle Busch, meanwhile, was in the throes of a deep playoff run after missing the first 11 races of the season with a broken leg.

RELATED: All of Gordon’s 93 wins

The action

Logano continued the momentum from the previous round, winning the pole for the 500-mile race at the .526-mile Virginia short track. He dominated a large portion of the race, leading a total of 207 before a pair of late-race incidents set up a memorable run to the finish.

A wreck following a restart on Lap 436 of 500 saw three playoff drivers crash at the exit of Turn 1. Brad Keselowski got loose coming out of the corner, getting into Matt Kenseth and sending the No. 20 spinning down the backstretch.

Logano continued to the lead on the following restart, but that changed with 47 laps left when Kenseth and Logano wrecked, sending both cars to the garage.

The incident opened the door for the competition to take advantage, as Hamlin took the lead after the final round of pit stops. He had AJ Allmendinger on his outside for the ensuing restart, with Gordon and Kyle Busch running in third and fourth, respectively.

It was Gordon who worked his way up to take the lead from Allmendinger on Lap 479. A late-race caution on Lap 495 set up a sprint to the finish as darkness fell.

MORE: Full 2015 race results

The winner

Gordon had to hold off Jamie McMurray and Earnhardt Jr. on the final restart to seal the victory. And he did. Taking McMurray’s best shot, Gordon finally pulled clear of the No. 1 just as the white flag dropped. He ran a clean final lap to earn his 93rd and final career race win, and his ninth triumph at Martinsville.

The emotional four-time champion climbed from his No. 24 car on the frontstretch to celebrate with his team in front of the crowd – a winning moment Gordon truly celebrated like it had the potential to be his last.

The celebration

The impact

The win sealed Gordon’s fate for the Championship 4, ensuring one more title run before he closed the book on his full-time Cup journey. But while Gordon left Martinsville with a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead, Logano — the title favorite — came out of it 28 points below the cutline. He would not recover and was eliminated in the Round of 8.