Race Capsule: Harvick gets what he needs, Johnson among those out at Dover
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
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
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
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. -
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
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
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
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