Following his crash with less than 10 laps to go last weekend at New Hampshire, there was a little bit of doubt for Jeff Gordon as he sought to advance to the Contender Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Today at Dover, that doubt was completely and thoroughly erased.
Shortly after the race hit 100 laps to go, Gordon took the lead from Brad Keselowski on the outside at Lap 306 and went on to win the AAA 400 – his first victory at Dover International Speedway since 2001.
“I knew we could compete with the 2 car [Keselowski],” Gordon said to ESPN in Victory Lane. “The 2 was really good on short runs but we could run them down. He made us work for it there at the end…He got to me and I was really, really tight in traffic there at the end, so I didn’t know if we were gonna pull it off.”
Meanwhile, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, survived a compelling battle with Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger for the 12th and final advance spot.
Kahne fell as far as four laps down at one point following a mid-race pit stop under green for a loose wheel, but managed to beat Allmendinger for the advance position by two points with a 20th-place finish.
“I had to push hard,” Kahne said. “I’m glad NASCAR just let us go and let us race for it. It was pretty interesting, but I’m glad we made it. We had to fight hard, and I think we had a Top-2 or 3 car today – just didn’t get to show it.”
Also failing to make the Chase were Greg Biffle (finished 21st) and Aric Almirola (finished 28th).
Kevin Harvick dominated the first half of the race despite developing an apparent left-front suspension issue around Lap 145. He ceded the lead to Keselowski at Lap 148, but when a caution came out for debris at Lap 175, Harvick was able to regain the lead in the pits.
He would hold it into a wave of green flag stops in which he himself pitted on Lap 249. But shortly after returning to the track, the left front tire went down on his No. 4 Chevrolet and led to a caution.
Harvick sustained left-front splitter damage as well and made multiple stops under the caution for new left-side tires and repairs. But he still stayed on the lead lap, even though he was forced to take the Lap 260 restart in 21st; he made some progress before finishing 13th.
Keselowski took over the lead thanks to Harvick’s issues and quickly ran away from second-place Kyle Busch off the restart. But Gordon would take second from “Rowdy” at Lap 274, and began to loom large in Keselowski’s rear view mirror as the run progressed.
Gordon soon caught the rear bumper of Keselowski, and then started the race-winning pass down the frontstretch before clearing Keselowski off of Turn 2.
While Gordon ruled at the front, Kurt Busch began to drop back into the lower reaches of the Top 20, allowing Kahne to take over the 12th spot on the Chase Grid despite running one lap down to the leaders at the time.
After the final green-flag stops cycled through, Gordon resumed leading and Kurt Busch found himself just one point behind Kahne for that 12th and final advance spot.
Kurt got by teammate Tony Stewart for 13th place with 49 laps left, earning back the advance position momentarily. But 12 laps later, Harvick passed him, putting Kahne one point above the cutoff again.
Gordon then put Kurt one lap down with less than 30 to go, and with 18 to go, Stewart got around Kurt for 14th. While that occurred, Kahne passed Biffle for 20th, pushing his points gap to several markers over Kurt, who eventually fell to 18th at the checkered flag.
While the Contender Round will see the points reset again to 3,000, here’s how the Challenger Round standings ended today at the Monster Mile:
1. Brad Keselowski – ADVANCED with Chicagoland win
2. Joey Logano – ADVANCED with New Hampshire win
3. Jeff Gordon – ADVANCED with Dover win
4. Kevin Harvick, +46 points over 13th place
5. Jimmie Johnson, +44 points
6. Kyle Busch, +34 points
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr., +27 points
8. Matt Kenseth, +20 points
9. Ryan Newman, +14 points
10. Carl Edwards +14 points
11. Denny Hamlin, +4 points
12. Kasey Kahne, +2 points
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT DOVER – AAA 400
1. Jeff Gordon, led 94 laps
2. Brad Keselowski, led 78 laps
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Joey Logano
5. Matt Kenseth, led 2 laps
6. Kyle Larson
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Ryan Newman
9. Clint Bowyer, led 1 lap
10. Kyle Busch
11. Carl Edwards, led 1 lap
12. Denny Hamlin
ONE LAP DOWN
13. Kevin Harvick, led 223 laps
14. Tony Stewart
15. Brian Vickers
16. Paul Menard
17. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
18. Kurt Busch
19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
20. Kasey Kahne
21. Greg Biffle
TWO LAPS DOWN
22. Jamie McMurray
23. A.J. Allmendinger
24. Austin Dillon
25. Danica Patrick
26. Marcos Ambrose
THREE LAPS DOWN
27. Casey Mears
28. Aric Almirola
FIVE LAPS DOWN
29. Justin Allgaier
30. Cole Whitt
31. David Ragan
SIX LAPS DOWN
32. Reed Sorenson
SEVEN LAPS DOWN
33. David Gilliland
NINE LAPS DOWN
34. Alex Bowman
35. Landon Cassill
36. Mike Bliss
37. David Stremme, Lap 389, Running
38. Travis Kvapil, Lap 389, Running
39. J.J. Yeley, Lap 387, Running
40. Mike Wallace, Lap 384, Running
41. Michael Annett, Lap 361, Accident
42. Josh Wise, Lap 197, Suspension
43. Timmy Hill, Lap 11, Vibration