Survive and advance. Turns out it works pretty good in NASCAR, too.
With today’s first-ever Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination race at Dover International Speedway, pressure reached a boiling point for those Chase drivers fighting to make the Top 12 and go on to the Contender Round.
But while some on the advance bubble couldn’t get the results they needed to keep their championship hopes alive, others did.
Among the latter group were Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
While teammate Kyle Busch had a decent points cushion before today, Hamlin and Kenseth did not; in fact, Hamlin was outside the cutoff.
But both of them did what they had to do.
Kenseth finished fifth to be 20 points inside the Top 12 and Hamlin – who had dubbed this race as the most important of his career – finished 11th to secure his spot in the next round by a mere four points.
“I feel great,” Hamlin said to ESPN. You never know what can happen. I know we had a car that was capable to race our way in, but I didn’t think it was going to be that close…I’m just happy this all resets, we start from scratch and have another life.
“The tracks just keep getting better for as this Chase goes on. We’re sitting in good shape. We’re as level as anyone right now. This is going to be a great comeback story if we keep going.”
Between Kenseth and Hamlin on the Chase Grid after Dover were eighth-place finisher Ryan Newman (+14 points over the cutoff) and 11th-place finisher Carl Edwards (also at +14 points), the latter now being the sole representative for Roush Fenway Racing after Greg Biffle was eliminated.
And at the bottom of the Chase Grid – but nonetheless moving on – was Kasey Kahne after what may be the hardest-fought 20th-place finish he’ll ever have.
On Lap 160, a loose wheel forced Kahne to the pits under green and knocked him two laps down. He pitted again under at Lap 240, going four laps down briefly.
But this time, the pit cycle played out under green as he needed it to. A caution at Lap 253 allowed him to pull within one lap down and get in the hunt for the free pass that would put him back on the lead lap.
Kahne never got it. But as the latter stages of the race progressed, he found himself in conflict with Kurt Busch for the advance position thanks to Busch fading on long runs.
With less than 50 to go, Busch held the advance position but a tight condition on his car forced him to cede precious positions. Meanwhile, Kahne helped his cause by passing Greg Biffle for 20th spot.
In the end, the math worked out in Kahne’s favor.
After making the Chase with a victory in the penultimate regular season race at Atlanta, Kahne once again came through when he needed to.