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The practice of drivers settling things among themselves continued Monday at Martinsville Speedway, but for a little while Jeff Gordon wondered if he might have settled with the wrong driver.
He hadn't. It turned out he'd paid back only one of two culprits at the end of the Goody's 500.
Replays showed Matt Kenseth was indeed the one who hit Gordon first in the green-white-checkered overtime that cost Gordon a much-needed win. Kenseth even confirmed it himself to reporters at the track.
Gordon led on that final restart, but Kenseth tapped him going into the first turn, causing Gordon's car to slip up off the bottom of the track, and Kenseth drove under.
Then Denny Hamlin, who would go on to win the melee, hit Gordon squarely in the back bumper as the dogfight continued off Turn 2.
Hamlin slipped into the lead while Gordon and Kenseth banged side by side down the straightaway.
Gordon at first told TV reporters that "I made sure he [Kenseth] wasn't going to win the race after that [bump from behind]," and punctuated it with a tight-lipped smile.
But later, in the postrace news conference, Gordon hedged, "I thought it was the 17 [Kenseth]. If it wasn't, I apologize to him."
Kenseth confessed -- sort of.
"I did go in there and I did get into Jeff a little bit, really not that hard," Kenseth said. "I got under him and everything was fine and he just took a left as hard as he could take one, and ran me down all the way into the marbles."
Hamlin had pitted for tires with 10 laps left in regulation to give Gordon, who stayed out on the track, the lead. Then Gordon appeared headed for the win until Kyle Busch wrecked just moments before the white flag, to cause the green-white-checkered.
"We were a hundred feet away from getting that white flag, getting the victory," Gordon said. "But I shouldn't be too upset. We were a third-place car before that, and we finished third."
Kenseth wound up 18th and said of his actions, "It's nothing Jeff wouldn't have done, or hasn't done, to me."
"The way he raced me today, I don't think was the way I would have raced him," Gordon said. And, "If somebody hits me, I'm going to hit him. If he hit me, I'm glad I did what I did on the back straightaway. If a guy gives you a cheap shot like that, he doesn't deserve to win the race, in my opinion.
"If that didn't happen, and I have not seen the video, then again, I'll be the first one to call him this week and apologize."
And the best news was that NASCAR said nothing about pondering penalties for either driver. So NASCAR continues to let 'em rip.
To clear the stage for the real show, winner Kevin Harvick had politely checked out, far into the lead, with 40 laps to go in Saturday's Kroger 250.
Then commenced the beating and banging among Ron Hornaday Jr., Mike Skinner and Johnny Sauter that left the pits in postrace turmoil befitting tight little Martinsville Speedway.
Hornaday and Skinner rubbed and slammed door-to-door for third, sending each other swerving, until Hornaday moved in front and took off after second-place Sauter.
Then Hornaday took out both Sauter and Skinner, turning Sauter around in Turn 4 and collecting Skinner in the melee. Hornaday continued, although he let teammate Harvick go on the final restart with 19 laps left, and settled for second.
After the race, Sauter had a few dozen choice words for Hornaday, and a shove in the chest, after breaking away from crewmen trying to restrain him.
But for TV cameras and microphones after the set-to, Sauter would say only hi to his wife and kids, thank his sponsors and tout his Web site.
Hornaday was more open to the media at the track.
"Johnny's deal -- I don't know if he just got out of the throttle," Hornaday said. "I got a good run up on him. I doinked him.
"I just can't say nothin'; I spun him out," Hornaday said. "That's all there is to it."
Of getting a break from his teammate on the final restart, Harvick told TV reporters, "It was pretty clear the 2 [his truck] was better than the 33 [Hornaday]. We worked together really well, and everything came together," for the 1-2 finish.
It was Harvick's fourth straight win in truck races he has entered, and his sixth in the last 10.
He joked that he was mainly testing equipment for Hornaday, the defending truck champion who runs full-time.
"That's my job, R&D guy," Harvick cracked. "But it's worked out pretty good lately."
The Nationwide Series was off. Its next race is April 3 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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