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Gordon Gets Dover Win; Four Booted From Chase

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 28 2014

Jeff Gordon got the victory in Dover on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Jeff Gordon won his fourth race of the season Sunday when he beat the field to the checkered flag at Dover International Speedway. But even more relevant news broke further back in the field as the Chase playoff field was trimmed down from 16 to 12 drivers.

Ousted Sunday from the Chase as it heads into its second – or Contender – round next weekend at Kansas Speedway, were Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger, who finished two points behind final Chase advancer Kasey Kahne.

For Gordon, Dover gave him his 92nd career victory and improved hopes that he could win his fifth Cup championship this season.

“This is huge,” Gordon said of the victory in terms of getting his first championship in 13 years. “We came in here with a little bit of extra pressure because we weren’t guaranteed to be in (the second round). All we did was focus on executing as a team and winning this race and nothing else. It wasn’t about the points, it wasn’t about just squeezing by to get to the next round. It was about making a statement. And I don’t know how you make a bigger statement than what this team just did right there.”

Next up for Gordon will be the race at Kansas Speedway, the 1.5-mile oval where Gordon won in the spring of this year.

Yep, things looking good for the 43-year-old Gordon.

“I think he found the fountain of youth somewhere,” Gordon’s team owner, Rick Hendrick, said of his driver.

Finishing second was Brad Keselowski of Team Penske.

“We’ve had a really good start,” Keselowski, who won the Chase-opener at Chicagoland Speedway, said. “I guess we can’t really complain that much having won a race, a second and a seventh, but it’s hard to look at that. All I could think about is how I wanted to win all three races and now it’s time to move forward. Three more races, a new start and what we were able to do in these last three, other than getting us to this next round, really means nothing. We’ve got to keep our head on straight and push forward these next three like we have these last three.”

Third was Jimmie Johnson, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

“Certainly wish we were in Victory Lane,” the six-time champion said, “but good solid third-place run. Our car just didn’t have the short run speed that the competitors did. We would kind of run everybody back down towards the end of a run, but just didn’t have what we needed at the start. I wish it was a little bit better, but still a great day with a Hendrick (Motorsports) car in Victory Lane, which is awesome and we will go to the next one.”

Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano was fourth and Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing was fifth.

“It was a little bit of a tougher week for us,” Logano, who won at New Hampshire a week ago, said. “We didn’t have a very fast car off the truck, but Todd Gordon and all these Shell/Pennzoil guys did a great job giving me a car that was pretty racy. We started 16th and drove up to 10th quick and then had a terrible restart and lost everything we had gained and then some. From there we just put four tires on it, reset and try to drive our way back up there. It was a hard-fought day, which is pretty normal for here at Dover. We got something good out of it and now we’ll start the next round and try to move on to the next one.”

Kenseth was happy to advance, if not have a great car at Dover.

“We just lacked a little bit,” Kenseth said. “We were pretty competitive in the middle of the race and then just got too free one run and got too tight one run. Just couldn’t quite get it, but overall it was a good day for us.”

Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick led the first 148 laps of the 400-lap race. He was passed for P1 by Keselowski just after telling his crew that, “The left front is slamming on the ground.” Shortly after being passed, he radioed, “We have a big problem.”

The problem couldn’t have been too big as Harvick stayed close to Keselowski and appeared set to take the lead back when a caution flag waved on Lap 172. Harvick did take the lead back moments later when he was first out of the pits.

At the halfway point, Harvick had just over a half second lead over Keselowski. Behind were Johnson, Kenseth, Gordon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.

Harvick began to build on his lead in the second half. With 170 laps left, it had grown to 3.6 seconds.

With just over 150 laps to go, green flag pit stops began.

With 148 laps to go, just after leaving the pits, Harvick blew a tire and his hopes for a victory took a big hit. During the ensuing caution, his team worked on damage from the blown tire during a series of stops and Harvick was able to stay on the lead lap.

“The inner valve stem got knocked out just like the first race here,” Harvick said, “except this time it was on the left-front so unfortunate, but probably our own fault for not finding a solution for it for the first race.

“We can beat every car on the race track. We just need some good luck. If we have some good luck, we’ll win races and have a shot at the championship.”

On the restart – on Lap 260 – Keselowski was back in the lead with Kyle Busch second. Harvick was 21st.

With 100 laps to go, Gordon began moving in on Keselowski’s rear bumper. On Lap 306, Gordon took the high side around Keselowski and became the third legit leader of the day.

Once out front, Gordon began to pull away. On Lap 313, it was over a second and growing – by Lap 315, it was 1.5 seconds.

When the final round of green flag stops began with 75 laps to go, Gordon’s lead was just over two seconds on Keselowski. When the pitting cycled through, Gordon’s lead was 3 seconds.

Keselowski, however, began to cut into the lead. With 50 laps to go, Keselowski was within a length or two of Gordon’s bumper. But Keselowski, could never get close enough to take a legitimate shot at the lead and over the final 15 laps, Gordon pulled away.

“I was really, really tight in traffic there at the end and I didn’t know if we were going to pull it off,” Gordon said.

He did.

Notes and quotes from Chasers:

– A.J. Allmendinger of JTG/Daugherty Racing fell a lap off the pace within the first 50 laps. On Lap 75, he got back on the lead lap by way of the free pass to the first car one lap off the pace when a caution flag waved. However, he was not able to move up enough with a car he called evil. He finished 23rd. He missed advancing to the Contender Round by two points.

“It was an awful day,” he said. “I’m not going to take a moral victory out of it to miss by two points,” Allmendinger said. “It’s disappointing. But we didn’t deserve to be in (the Chase) with the run that we had.

“We know (the JTG Daugherty team) is making steps in the right direction. We kept throwing the kitchen sink at it every stop. My crew chief, Brian Burns, did everything he could to keep trying to make it better. We just missed it all weekend.”

– Aric Almirola fell a lap back  of the leader within the first 50 laps. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver spent much of the rest of the race battling – and failing – to move into the position of being the first car a lap down so he could get back on the lead by way of the free pass. He missed out on advancing to the second round of the Chase. He finished 28th at Dover.

“It just didn’t work out for us,” he said. “I hate it. We picked a bad day to run the way we did and we can’t blame anybody but ourselves. My car didn’t have any grip. You can’t go fast without grip.”

– Kasey Kahne had to pit ahead of schedule on Lap 162. He told his crew over the radion that his Hendrick Chevy fell off balance. He lost two laps on the stop. He was not done, however. He got a lap back under the free pass provision and near the end of the race found himself still in contention for advancing in the Chase. He finished 20th and narrowly advance.

– Greg Biffle had a poor handling car all race long. It went back and forth from being loose to tight. He finished 21st and failed to advance.

“This is the way it’s gone all season,” the Roush Fenway driver said. “We’re just searching for speed and struggled all day today. We’ve worked hard trying to fix our problems, but it just hasn’t come together yet. It’s frustrating because part of you wants to just pull it and put it in the garage and the other half is racing as hard as you can to get in the Chase. It’s pretty frustrating. I’ve won races my whole career, but to be struggling like this all year is disappointing at best.”

– Kevin Harvick led 223 laps, had a big lead when he had tire problems with 148 laps to go. He stayed on the lead lap after pitting, but never threatened for the lead again. He easily advanced.

– Kurt Busch had poorly handling car for much of the race. He finished 18th and missed advancing to the second round.

“It was just tight the last 100 miles,” Busch, driving the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy, said. “I felt like we were in good position to advance, but you just can’t expect to advance by running 18th. You have to be more competitive.”

– Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 17 and easily qualified for the second round of the playoffs. But, at Dover, he was never a threat to win or stand on the podium.

“We didn’t run good obviously,” he said. “We struggled with our car all day long. I thought we had a lot better car in practice, but we made some changes. I guess they didn’t really work out for us. We were real loose on entry and real tight in the center. The balance was bad at the start of the run and the end of the run. So we never had a moment during the race where the car was very good and competitive. We just missed the set-up pretty bad. We just need to start from scratch when we come back here next year.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 28 2014
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