Hendrick Motorsports will have all four of its drivers in the second round of NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup. Jeff Gordon took the lead on lap 307 and never looked back as he powered to victory in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. His teammate Kasey Kahne overcame a loose tire early in the race fighting back to finish 20th and move to the next round of the Chase.
“We came in here with a little bit of extra pressure because we weren’t guaranteed to be in,” Gordon said. “If we hadn’t finished where we were running at New Hampshire last week, it would have been kind of an easy day for us. But all we did was focus on executing as a team and trying to win this race and nothing else.”
Kevin Harvick led from the pole and was the dominate car leading a race high 223 of the 400 laps. But on lap 252, Harvick’s Chevy lost a left front tire and he was forced to pit. He restarted 21st but was never able to make it back to the front and settled for a 13th place finish one lap down.
“I don’t know what happened to Kevin Harvick,” Gordon said. “It was unfortunate for him. He was the class of the field.”
Kahne had his issues as well; a loose wheel on lap 161 forced him in for a green flag stop. He would fall as far as four laps down but made up just enough spots to secure his place in the Contender round. Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola were eliminated.
Brad Keselowski finished second Sunday, Jimmie Johnson third, Joey Logan fourth with Matt Kenseth fifth. Sunday’s win was the fourth of the season for Gordon and his fifth at Dover the last one coming in 2001.
Harvick led to the green flag and he and Kyle Busch dueled side by side for nearly the entire first lap before Harvick was able to stretch out his lead. Busch soon fell to third behind Brad Keselowski. Denny Hamlin was fourth, Gordon fifth. By lap 15, Gordon had moved into fourth and Harvick was beginning to lap the field.
By lap 31 Harvick still led, Keselowski was still second, Gordon was third, Busch fourth and Hamlin fifth with Jimmie Johnson catching him in sixth; by lap 40 Johnson had taken over fifth. Chase hopeful Almirola was lapped by Harvick on lap 45; Allmendinger was just ahead and was passed a lap later. By lap 50 Keselowski was slowly reeling in leader Harvick.
The first caution came out for debris on lap 61. The leaders came in for the first stops of the day. Harvick led the race off followed by Keselowski, Gordon, Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Johnson had a slow stop and he restarted 10th. The green flag flew on lap 67 and Harvick was able to jump to the lead.
The second caution came out on lap 76 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got into the wall. He was able to continue. All the leaders stayed out. The restart came on lap 80 with Harvick again going to the lead. Johnson was back to fifth by lap 85. On lap 93, Johnson retook fourth.
Things remained relatively quiet in the lead group until lap 115 when Gordon took over second. The third caution came out for debris on lap 125. The leaders pitted. Harvick led off pit road followed by Gordon, Keselowski and Johnson. The green came out on lap 130 and Harvick remained in the lead, Keselowski got by Gordon for second. On lap 144 Harvick reported that his left front was “slamming” the ground and soon Keselowski caught and passed him on lap 148. On lap 161 Kasey Kahne made a green flag stop with a loose left rear tire, he returned to the race two laps down in 29th.
Harvick was able to move back forward and was challenging for the lead again on lap 168. Caution four came out for debris on lap 172. The leaders came in for stops. Harvick led off pit road, followed by Keselowski, Kenseth, Johnson and Hamlin. The green flew on lap 175. Harvick went to the lead as Johnson and Keselowski fought for second; Keselowski won the battle a lap later and held the runner-up spot. By lap 237, Harvick’s lead was nearly three seconds over Keselowski. Kahne pitted under green on lap 243. By lap 245 a full round of green flag stops was underway and on lap 249 Harvick and Keselowski pitted.
On lap 252 Harvick suddenly slowed with a left front tire that had gone down. The caution came out for debris and Harvick elected to stay out; Keselowski assumed the lead. Harvick was the only car on the lead lap to pit and he remained on the lead lap; he would pit four times in total, but stayed on the lead lap. The crew found a missing valve stem, the same issue they had in the spring; Harvick restarted 22nd
The green came out on lap 261; Keselowski led has Busch and Gordon fought for second; Kyle Larson was in third. A lap later Busch took control of second and Gordon settled into third. By lap 285 Gordon had moved back to second and was slowly moving in to Keselowski for the lead. By lap 307 Gordon took the lead for the first time of the day. It wasn’t long before Gordon’s lead was a second and a half.
Green flag stops started on lap 325. Gordon came in from the lead on lap 329. He would cycle back to the lead when the stops had completed. Keselowski reeled Gordon in, and by lap 349 was nearing Gordon for the lead; with 26 laps to go Keselowski had caught Gordon. The attention went to the transfer spot as Kahne had made up enough spots and Kurt Busch lost enough to move Kahne to move into the next race.
Keselowski had nothing for Gordon and Gordon lapped the 12th car, Hamlin, as he took the white flag then a lap later the checkered flag for the 92nd win of his career. Kyle Larson was sixth, Martin Truex Jr., seventh, Ryan Newman eighth, Clint Bowyer ninth and Kyle Busch 10th. The full race results can be found here.
“When I saw (Harvick) go out, I knew we could compete with the No.2 (Brad Keselowski) car,” Gordon said.”The No. 2 was really good on short runs, but we could run him down. Of course he made us work for it there at the end because he was so good on short runs and he got to me. I was really, really tight in traffic there at the end. I didn’t know if we were going to pull it off.”
With the points reset for the Contender round, Keselowski is seeded first, Logano, Johnson, Harvick, and Gordon make up the top five. Twelve drivers will now race for eight spots in the next round as the NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Kansas Speedway for next Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. The full updated points can be found here.
“All we did was focus on executing as a team and trying to win this race and nothing else,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t about the points; it wasn’t about just squeezing by to get to the next round. It was about making a statement. I don’t know how you make a bigger statement than what this team just did right there.”