Flag to Flag: The AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway did not produce as much side-by-side racing drama as some races, but the drivers near the cutoff in NASCAR's first Chase elimination race felt the heat all race long. Kevin Harvick, fresh off of his worst two-race stretch of the season, pretty much had to win to advance in the playoffs. Rain washed out qualifying, putting Matt Kenseth (7th) on the pole, based on owner's points.

Kenseth stayed out front for the first few laps, but Harvick charged from 15th and into the lead on lap 24. Harvick only gave up the lead in brief stints during pit sequences the rest of the way, but constantly was fast off of pit road anyway. Kenseth and the No. 20 team actually elected not to pit when the leaders did on the last stop, but could not hold the lead for very long.

Harvick never at any point like he would not win and that is exactly what he did. The bigger drama is who would transfer to the next round with he, Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin (18th). Jimmie Johnson came into the race comfortable in the standings and with 10 previous Dover wins, Sunday's race did not on paper seem to be a big challenge for the No. 48 team. It was. In the first third of the race, Johnson went to the garage as a seal on the rear axle broke. Johnson would lose 36 laps and finish 41st. He would need some drivers near the Chase cutoff to lose 9 to 12 spots from where they were running when he got in trouble, to make the top 12. He wouldn't get it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3rd) and Jamie McMurray (4th) stayed near each other for much of the race. Toward the end, McMurray surged by Earnhardt Jr. on pit road, manipulating the speeding lines to start a spot ahead of the No. 88. Earnhardt Jr. struggled and could not get by McMurray on that restart, but on the final one on lap 377 Earnhardt Jr. made a bold move to the outside of McMurray and the two followed each other into the top 5. They finished with the same amount of points, but Earnhardt Jr. won the tiebreaker, as he had the best finish of the two drivers in the last three races...this finish.

Brad Keselowski (16th), Kurt Busch (17th), and Ryan Newman (19th) entered the day fairly comfortable in the standings, but barely got on the right side of the cutoff. Keselowski and Newman struggled most of the day, but Busch ran well until the late going. A problem with a jack screw on the left front of the car forced the No. 41 team to conduct prolonged pit stops to try and pack the front spring and get the height right.

Paul Menard (25th) and Clint Bowyer (14th) each had long shots to advance - they had to win, like Harvick. Menard got lapped early and fairly often and was never a factor in the finish and Bowyer was decent, but never a contender. Their Chase runs are over.

Joey Logano (10th), Martin Truex Jr. (11th), Jeff Gordon (12th), and Carl Edwards (15th) all advanced with some comfort, though Edwards had a top 5 car and had a chassis part failure in the closing laps that set the No. 19 back.

Then there was Kyle Busch (2nd), who needed to run in front of as many Chase drivers as possible, after cutting a tire and wrecking at New Hampshire last week. The No. 18 never could catch Harvick, but easily was the second-best car of the day.

The top 10 were Harvick, Ky. Busch, Earnhardt Jr. (his sixth 3rd-place finish of the season), McMurray (second-best finish of season), Aric Almirola (third top 5 of season), Kasey Kahne (quietly put together a decent finish), Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (only second top 10 of year), Kyle Larson (ran higher, but got trained on last restart), and Logano.

The racing action wasn't spicy, but the points-watching was. The pressure only builds for NASCAR's now-12 playoff teams as they return home to run at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night.

RaceTweet: Harvick had to win and stormed field at Dover. Junior squeaks by and Johnson bows out of Chase.

Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - No question. This is the team and driver you want to pick if you need them to win just one race. Harvick led almost 89% of the laps and couldn't even afford to finish 2nd, if he wanted to make the next round of the Chase. Dover's race was simply a clutch, dominant performance. After surviving the scare of missing the Chase cutoff, Harvick is now even again with the rest of the field, but is he? The No. 4 team has to be the favorite the rest of the way. One caveat - this is only Harvick's third win of the season and first since Phoenix - 24 races ago.

North Korean Missile Dud: Jimmie Johnson - We hate to pile on the No. 48 team, but Johnson did not even have to finish very high to clinch a next round berth. But this is racing and a small part failed on the usually invincible No. 48 Chevy and Johnson got bounced from arguably his best racetrack.

You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Loose wheels on two different pit stops could have doomed the No. 88 team and knocked them from the Chase. But Earnhardt Jr. drove his heart out on the final restart and finished 3rd, barely making the next round. Earnhardt Jr.'s name is not the first most call out when speaking of being able to comeback from trouble, but he did it Sunday with his back against the wall. We will also give a nod to Martin Truex Jr., who came back from starting in the back to finish 11th, which isn't bad on a track where passing is quite hard.

Ghost Driver: Brad Keselowski - The No. 2 team won the 2012 Dover Chase race in their title year, but they missed it badly Sunday. Keselowski fell down a lap, but took a late free pass to finish a distant 16th on the lead lap. He was dejected after the race, but nonetheless relieved to barely make the Contender Round of the Chase.

Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Sam Hornish Jr. - There really wasn't any small team that finished well. but Hornish Jr., who has had a horrendous season, placed 20th Sunday. His teammate Almirola was 5th. So Sunday was a decent day for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Earnhardt Jr. - If not for his teammate Johnson's mechanical misfortune, Earnhardt Jr. would instead be on the other side of the playoffs.

Wheel of Misfortune: Johnson - The Dover race simply did not derail any Chase drivers except for Johnson. When the inexpensive axle seal failed, Johnson fell to 43rd and only gained a couple of spots after other drivers fell out. That is how the cookie crumbles sometimes.

Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: How did John Wes Townley win that Saturday night Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? He had a fast truck and led some laps early, but Matt Crafton, winner of four 1.5-mile track races this season, was the toast of the field and had the race in the bag, until it turned into a fuel mileage affair. Then Townley took the point and obviously seemed not versed in how to save fuel. But spotter and former winning driver Terry Cook coached Townley on when to get out of the throttle and also when to pick it back up. Townley was exaggerating his time out of the gas enough to give Red Horse Racing teammates Timothy Peters and Ben Kennedy a sniff of a chance at the win. But Townley held on as Peters and Kennedy sped toward him at full song. It was Townley's first-career win in any NASCAR series - a career filled with trials, wrecked rides, and lots of doubt. Cheers to Townley for finally getting the win that every driver wants.

Georgia on My Mind: Townley's win was the highlight of the Georgia Gang this weekend, but Brandon Jones cashed in another impressive performance, this time 5th in the NCWTS race Saturday night. Korbin Forrister retired early with an oil leak and finished 27th.

Sunday's Cup race saw David Ragan finish a couple of laps down in 22nd, as he was overmatched the entire race. His crew chief Brian Pattie served on Clint Bowyer's team, after No. 15 head wrench Billy Scott began serving his penalty. Dax Garringer called the shots for Ragan's No. 55 team. Reed Sorenson in the under-funded Premium Motorsports ride finished 33rd.

Saturday's Xfinity Series saw Regan Smith go to Victory Lane ahead of Georgia's Chase Elliott in 7th. Elliott gained just one point on leader Chris Buescher (+24), but Ty Dillon dropped to 4th in points after hitting the wall and now Regan Smith is 3rd in points. Tucker's Ryan Sieg placed 17th.

Townley's Athenian Motorsports NXS team withdrew from the race and maybe from the rest of the season, so they could focus on their NCWTS effort. The first race out, they won.

NXS RaceTweet: Regan Smith stays ahead of the Cup drivers at Dover to win 2nd race of year. Ty Dillon kisses title goodbye.

NCWTS RaceTweet: Fuel mileage gets John Wes Townley first career win. Prayers to Austin Theriault after a nasty crash.

Next: While the NCWTS takes off, both the NSCS and NXS teams get to race in their backyard at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The NXS runs Friday night at 8 p.m. on NBCSN, PRN, and SiriusXM 90. The Cup Series jostles for 500 miles Satuday night at 7 p.m. on NBC, PRN, and SiriusXM 90. This Charlotte race often bites a chunk out of someone's title hopes and last year tempers flared. With all the pressure the first round of the Chase created, the stage is set for drama at Charlotte this time again.