On a day where much of the talk was about Chase eliminations and drivers being on the bubble. Jeff Gordon took another huge step towards immortality at Dover International Speedway. Gordon took advantage of a lightning fast pit stop by his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger crew with around seventy laps to go to separate himself from a hard-charging Brad Keselowski with about 20 laps to go and coasted from there to a 4.352-second margin of victory. Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson finished third, followed by New Hampshire winner Joey Logano in fourth. Matt Kenseth, who still hasn’t visited Victory Lane this year, rounded out the top 5.
It was Gordon’s 92nd Sprint Cup Series win and his fourth of the 2014 season, automatically advancing him to the contender round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup which starts at Kansas Speedway next week.
“It wasn’t about the points. It wasn’t about just squeezing by to get to the next round,” Gordon said. “It was about making a statement. I don’t know how you make a bigger statement than what this team just did right there.”
The win at Dover was Gordon’s first at the track since 2001, which coincidentally was the last year he took home NASCAR’s biggest prize. Gordon credited Alan Gustafson and his pit crew for the team’s success this season.
“I don’t know what I’ve found, but I think a lot of it has to do with (crew chief) Alan Gustafson and all the guys on this No. 24 team,” Gordon said. “They’ve just giving me such an awesome race car team this year. I’m having so much fun.”
While Gordon enjoyed the spoils of victory, Kevin Harvick was left to ponder another win that got away. Harvick dominated much of Sunday’s 400-mile race at Dover, keeping his Budweiser Chevrolet out front for a race-high 223 laps including the race’s first 147 laps consecutively. Harvick was in full command until disaster struck during a pit stop when the inner valve stem was knocked out of the left front tire of his no.4 Chevrolet which mired Harvick deep in the field. Harvick did mount a rally but could only climb as high as 13th and the first car a lap down at the finish. Harvick’s disappointment was evident post race.
“We can beat every car on the race track. We just need some good luck,” Harvick said. “If we get some luck, we’ll win races and have a shot at the championship.”
Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne had to fight for his spot in the Chase. After running inside the top 10 early, a loose wheel forced the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet to make an unscheduled pit stop that put him two laps down. At one point, though only a short time, Kahne found himself as much as four laps down through a late-race round of green-flag pit stops. He managed to recover and finish 20th, one lap down, barely edging AJ Allmendinger for the 12th and final spot for the Contender Round by a slim two-point margin.
Dover was the final race of the Challenger Round for the Chase. Jeff Gordon joins Chicago winner Brad Keselowski and New Hampshire Joey Logano with automatic berths into the next round. Those advancing into the contender round by virtue of points are: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. Those eliminated were: Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch, who made his 500th cup start on Sunday.
There were ten lead changes among seven drivers and five cautions for 23 laps kept the race pace at a quick 130.541 MPH.
Next week the Contender Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off in the nation’s heartland and Kansas Speedway. The Hollywood Casino 400 goes green at 2:16 p.m. ET next Sunday.