Race Capsule: Gordon takes Dover and Dover eliminates four
Flag to Flag: Sprint Cup races at Dover International Speedway often yield long green flag runs and dominant runs by leading cars on its one-mile concrete surface. Sunday's race offered just that, despite being the cutoff race for the end of the Challenger round for NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoff system. Jeff Gordon continued to show his strength in his No. 24 Chevrolet, leading 94 laps and taking his fourth win of the season in the AAA 400. But Kevin Harvick (13th) and his No. 4 Chevy were dialed in the best Sunday, leading the first 147 laps from the pole and 223 total. But just like what has happened to Harvick several other times this year, the lead slipped away when it mattered most. Harvick had been reporting some kind of suspension failure on the left-front of the car, maybe a broken shock, through most of the race. Rodney Childers and the Budweiser crew never could find the problem during pit stops, which were sparse, because of the long green flag runs. Just after some green flag stops where Harvick lost the lead to Brad Keselowski (2nd), he cut a left front tire, dropped debris on the track, and the yellow flag came out. The cut tire caused the car to drag the front splitter on the ground and damage it, but the No. 4 crew kept Harvick on the lead lap. He ended up finishing as the first car one lap down. Gordon took the lead from Keselowski under green with 95 laps to go and held it the rest of the way, except for the green flag pit stop sequence around lap 328. The big story of the race was which four drivers would not advance from the Challenger round in the Chase. Aric Almirola needed to replicate his good New Hampshire run to help sooth the points hit from his blown engine at Chicagoland - he finished 28th and got lapped early and did not advance to the Contender round. A.J. Allmendinger was in similar shoes to Almriola's at one of his best tracks, finishing 23rd. Greg Biffle had a 2014 Biffle-esque day, placing 21st and dropping out of the playoffs. And Kurt Busch, making his 500th Sprint Cup start at the track where he debuted in 2000, needed just a solid finish to advance - he finished a lap down in 18th. He lost several positions in the closing laps, which was the difference in making it. On the flip side, Kasey Kahne seemed doomed at Dover, having to make an unscheduled pit stop for a loose lugnut and losing two laps. But he drove from his ugly 29th position to finish 20th. He passed Biffle in the late going to end up getting one point to the good to make the cut. Denny Hamlin had a dreadful New Hampshire race last week, but placed 12th at Dover. Gordon also cut a tire and wrecked last week at New Hampshire, but his win Sunday punched his ticket for the next round of the Chase. The Dover race could have been gangbusters with so many drivers so close together in points. But much like Richmond three weeks ago, the drivers that were dialed out had few pauses in the action to right their ships. The top 10 were Gordon, Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, rookie Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch.
RaceTweet: Gordon wins at Dover. Harvick dominates, but loses again. Allmendinger, Biffle, Almirola, & Ku. Busch cut from Chase.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - One thing Harvick has that few do is speed. The team's lack of execution and bad luck in the closing laps of races will hurt them at Homestead, but speed may be enough to carry them there. He led a blistering 223 of the first 248 laps and scored the pole.
North Korean Missile Dud: Kurt Busch - He had speed at Chicagoland and enough of it to rebound from some problems. He seemed quick at New Hampshire, but had problems. And he was a solid 12th-place car at Dover, before fading to 18th and out of the Chase.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Tony Stewart - He won Dover last May for his only 2013 victory. But good runs have been few and far between amidst a controversy and recovery from injury. In his first race since the grand jury in the Kevin Ward Jr. case decided not to charge Stewart in his death, Stewart was solid all day and finished 14th, his best finish since placing 7th at New Hampshire...in July. Stewart addressed the media Monday as a group for the first time since the Ward Jr. tragedy and he still is having to overcome a lot of demons and grief just to race. 14th wasn't a bad finish at all for Driver 14.
Ghost Driver: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Not needing a great finish apparently meant being invisible Sunday. He finished 17th and I honestly don't remember seeing him on TV all day. If laying back and squeaking to make the cut is his strategy, that works. But if his No. 88 team is lacking that much speed, finishing top 12 or better each week in the Contender round will be hard.
You Don't Have to Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Martin Truex Jr. - There are only two tracks where this New Jersey driver can boast he's a former Sprint Cup winner and Dover is one. He started 26th in the No. 78 Chevy and methodically worked into 7th at race's end. In a race that stayed green and saw many get lapped, the Furniture Row Racing team stayed composed and notched a solid finish.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: This is more of something that is making some fans scratch their heads. Both Richmond and Dover were Chase playoff cutoff races and neither really produced much action. Dover is incredibly treacherous and Richmond is a short track. But both got dominated by one driver and stayed green for long stretches, which gave drivers few restarts to pass and/or wreck and teams fewer chances to adjust their ill-handling cars. It also gave drivers on the bubble less chances to get a mulligan and catch back up. The point here is that no matter the point system or the circumstances, teams race pretty much the same way and some races just end up being better than others. New Hampshire is not always wreck-filled or entertaining and last week's race was. If we learn anything from this new and exciting point playoff system, it's that there never is a guarantee for miracle moments - even at the season-finale at Homestead.
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott had the comeback story of the weekend. After two lapped cars collected each other in front of him, he couldn't slow down fast enough and got damage to his nose and scraped the wall. But Greg Ives and the crew did a great job repairing the mess and keeping him on the lead lap. He drove from 24th to 6th in one green flag run and ended up finishing 3rd at Dover and extending his Nationwide Series points lead seven more points to 26 over teammate Regan Smith. Kyle Busch won Saturday's race. Sunday's Cup race saw both David Ragan and Reed Sorenson lapped early, like the rest of the backmarkers. Ragan started 37th and finished 31st, five laps down. Sorenson started 33rd and finished 32nd, six laps down. John Wes Townley was with the Camping World Truck Series in Las Vegas Saturday night and finished a lap down in 11th, in a race won by Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Erik Jones.
NNS RaceTweet: Cup drivers Logano and KyBusch dominate, with Busch taking the win. Elliott with big comeback to pad pts lead.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Erik Jones wins 2nd race of season and 3rd of career for KBM, as teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. dominates/places 2nd.