Jeff Gordon earns first win of 2014, barely beats Kevin Harvick to finish line at Kansas

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Scratch Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon off the list of winless drivers in 2014.

Gordon became the first three-time winner at Kansas Speedway, capturing Saturday night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 Benefitting Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

“This is so sweet,” Gordon said. “What a huge weight lifted off this team’s shoulder. We’ve been leading the points, but we needed to get to victory lane and they proved they were capable of doing that. Great, great job by them (his team). … We’ve been building up to this all season long.”

Gordon, who previously won the first two Sprint Cup races at the 1.5-mile track in 2001 and 2002 becomes the ninth different winner in this season’s first 11 races. It was his first win since at Martinsville last fall.

Gordon won his 89th career Sprint Cup race, holding off a late charge from runner-up Kevin Harvick. Gordon beat Harvick to the finish line by less than two car lengths.

“I knew he had a fast race car,” Gordon said. “We’ve been bringing fast race cars every single weekend. It’s just given me so much confidence in the race cars and the race team.

“Kevin was tough. He was so strong. I did not know if I could hold him off at the end. … He was just coming. Luckily, I got the checkered flag.”

Harvick led the most laps, nearly half of the 267-lap race, with 119 laps in front of the pack. Gordon, meanwhile, led just nine, including taking over the lead for good eight laps from the finish.

“We slipped there with about 10 or 11 laps left to go and lost all the ground I made up, but I made it all back up again,” Harvick said. “It was a weird night, but I’m proud of everybody on this team.”

Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, earned his best and first top-five finish of the season, winding up third, followed by outside polesitter Joey Logano in fouth and another HMS teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in fifth.

“We were really close,” Kahne said. “I had a really good car, it was fun to race up front. I passed cars and raced hard all night long. … And Jeff Gordon won, so it was a great night for Hendrick Motorsports.”

In fact, HMS drivers finished in three of the top five and all four were in the top nine.

Sixth through 10th were Carl Edwards, Danica Patrick earned the best finish of her Sprint Cup career by finishing seventh, followed by Aric Almirola, HMS driver and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson in ninth and Matt Kenseth in 10th.

Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, ending up in 12th place.

The start of the race was delayed slightly to let a passing storm cell pass by the racetrack. And while local radar showed additional storms in the area, the rest of the race was not affected.

There were eight caution periods that slowed traffic for 47 laps, with one brutal wreck primarily involving David Gilliland, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier on Lap 187.

Allgaier’s car was tapped in the rear, sending him directly into the path of Gilliland’s car, which hit the outside retaining wall almost head-on.

Gilliland’s car was destroyed, with the front end crumpled almost to the bottom of the windshield, and the rear part of the car all but obliterated. Virtually all that was left with some semblance of recognizability was the driver compartment.

Gilliland was helped from the car and walked with assistance to the waiting ambulance, while Allmendinger and Allgaier appeared to be uninjured.

On Lap 60, David Ragan, Ryan Truex, Michael Annett and Landon Cassill were involved in a wreck, leaving all of them with significant damage.

Kurt Busch struggled, with a pair of solo spins in the race. While his Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet suffered minimal damage, it appeared he battled handling problems much of the race, resulting in his 29th place finish.

Also of note, making the first Sprint Cup start of his career, Ryan Blaney – son of veteran racer Dave Blaney – finished 27th.

Here’s the final finishing order in Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 400:

1 Jeff Gordon

2 Kevin Harvick

3 Kasey Kahne

4 Joey Logano

5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

6 Carl Edwards

7 Danica Patrick

8 Aric Almirola

9 Jimmie Johnson

10 Matt Kenseth

 

11 Ryan Newman

12 Kyle Larson

13 Brad Keselowski

14 Brian Vickers

15 Kyle Busch

16 Greg Biffle

17 Paul Menard

18 Denny Hamlin

19 Austin Dillon

20 Tony Stewart

 

21 Martin Truex Jr.

22 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

23 Clint Bowyer

24 Marcos Ambrose

25 Michael Annett

26 Casey Mears

27 Ryan Blaney

28 Cole Whitt

29 Kurt Busch

30 AJ Allmendinger

 

31 Joe Nemechek

32 Reed Sorenson

33 Josh Wise

34 Travis Kvapil

35 Alex Bowman

36 Justin Allgaier

37 David Gilliland

38 David Ragan

39 Jamie McMurray

40 Timmy Hill

 

41 J.J. Yeley

42 Landon Cassill

43 Ryan Truex

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Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.