And then there were only 12, after the 45th Annual AAA 400 held at Dover International Speedway, Sunday, Sept 28, 4 drivers were eliminated from Chase contention, in the closing laps of the Challenger Round.
Much of the race at the Monster Mile, featured the epic battle between Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, Kahne entered the race in 11th in the points standings, and ran in the top-10 for the first 100 laps before calamity struck as Kahne brought his car to pit road under green on Lap 160 for a loose wheel. The #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet team needed to rethink and regroup in order to have a chance of advancing into Chase contention.
“We had a loose wheel and had to pit under green,” Kenny Francis, crew chief, said. “You get two laps down when you pit under green here. So we ran two laps down for a while. We ended up waving around and got one (lap) down. Then we had a long green flag run and we got two laps down again, had to pit under green, and then were four (laps) down.”
By the halfway mark of the race on Lap 200, Kahne was 15th in the Chase standings looking in but continued, just when everything seemed to be going awry, race leader Kevin Harvick’s issue brought out the caution flag Kahne made up three of the four laps and Kahne was back in the race.
With 65 laps to go, Kahne had moved up to 12th in the standings, while his opponent Busch was one point back in 13th, but the battle was far from over. As Busch advanced in the field the points would go back and forth between the two drivers, at 37 laps to go, Harvick moved by Busch for the 13th position, which transferred Kahne into the 12th position in the standings for the final time.
“I’m too old for this,” Hendrick told ESPN. ‘Kahne drove his butt off to get back there. This Chase format is unbelievable. You sit there and you watch and you’re one out, you’re two out, you’re three out, you’re two to the good. This is going to be a hectic few weeks to go.”
At the end Busch would be 6 points behind Kahne, 14th in the standings. A.J. Allmendinger would grab the 13th position 2 points behind 12th in the standings, Greg Biffle would finish 15th in the standings 7 points behind 12th, and Aric Almirola would be the last eliminated driver in 16th, 18 points behind the 12th position.
For Busch, who made his milestone 500th career start, said, “It just was tight the last 100 miles, you can’t expect to advance running 15th. You have to be more competitive.”
Four more drivers will be eliminated in the next three-races that will start next weekend at Kansas Speedway, and include the tracks of Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
Who will be removed after Talladega, will it be Brad Keselowski, who has the most wins of the season, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, who has the most pole awards for the season, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, or Kasey Kahne?
All drivers will be set to an equal ground with 3,000 points, if a driver wins one of the next three races they will automatically advance from the Contender Round into the Eliminator Round that will feature the top 8 drivers.