MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jeff Gordon seems amused by the attention he’s received as the good guy gone bad, his squeaky clean image tarnished by a postrace shove of an apologetic Matt Kenseth at Bristol last weekend.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others seem entertained too, not only by Gordon’s promise to prove more often that he’s human, but by conjecture that 500 laps of payback are coming today, when the premier series races at tight, tricky and often testy Martinsville Speedway.
“I think if there weren’t so many questions on it, you might get some more reactions on the track. You might see some more paybacks,” pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson said Saturday. “With all the attention drawn to it, no one’s going to make a mistake.
“I guess the fans are being shorted in an ironic way.”
That’s rarely how it ends up at Martinsville, though, where a narrow and sharply bending pit road is always blamed for some scrapes, and more cars typically finish their day strapped to the back of a tow truck than without a blemish to be seen.
Throw in the festering grudges from all the beating and banging a week ago, and fans will show up today wondering if Kenseth should be on the lookout for Gordon, who dropped from third to 21st on the last lap at Bristol after a nudge from Kenseth, and if Kurt Busch should beware of Kenseth after nudging him aside with four laps remaining.
Drivers typically practice the policy of doing to others only what has been done to them, but Johnson said they also know the wrong agenda can be extremely costly.
“The majority of the drivers, they’re professionals and they know what they need to do,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to block that out, go forward.
“We all need to collect points and get going from here.”
Gordon has echoed the same viewpoint this weekend, noting that he called Martin Truex Jr. this week to apologize for their feud at Bristol (Tenn.), and talked with Kenseth following the incident that drew Gordon a $10,000 fine and probation through Aug. 30.
He also knows that more contact is inevitable, however, especially when 43 race cars are together on a narrow track and all fighting for every point they can get.
“We’re all trying to win races and we’re all trying to occupy the same amount of real estate,” he said. “… I would expect we’re going to see more and more of it.”