DOVER, Del. — Recap by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America photo — At one time he was ‘Wonder Boy’. Now, he’s ‘Big Daddy’, and Sunday afternoon at Dover, Jeff Gordon overshadowed all challengers once again.
Gordon stormed past Brad Keselowski on lap 306 and held the lead following a late-race cycle of green-flag pit stops to claim the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, laying siege to the first elimination race in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The victory was Gordon’s fourth win of the season, his fifth career Dover victory (and first since 2001) and his 92nd career Sprint Cup victory.
“I gotta tell you, Alan Gustafson and this whole team worked so hard this weekend — it was not an easy weekend,” Gordon explained in Gatorade Victory Lane. “We just stuck together and they made great adjustments today. We weren’t the best on the short runs but we kept getting better the longer the runs went on. I don’t know what happened to Kevin Harvick. That was unfortunate for him becuase he was the class of the field. We were tuning on it to try and compete with him when I saw him go out. I knew we could compete with the 2 car (Keselowski.)”
“The 2 was really good on short runs but we could run him down. Of course he made us work for it there at the end,” Gordon added.
Gordon’s team owner Rick Hendrick was one of the first to meet the four-time champion after the win — and he had a burning question on his mind as well.
“He asked me where I found the Fountain of Youth,” Gordon laughed.
Nine-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson was third, with Loudon winner Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth rounding out the top five.
Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch were the rest of the top ten on a topsy-turvy day where the final recap sheet did not tell the true tale of the event.
Polesitter Kevin Harvick led 223 of the first 251 laps, but disaster struck on lap 252 when Harvick slowed with a flat left front tire while leading the event. The caution waved, allowing the Stewart Haas Racing driver to come down pit road and replace the tire, as well as repair damage to the front splitter without losing a lap, however Harvick was never able to rally back. He ultimately finished 13th, one lap down — the sixth straight time Harvick has led the most laps without coming away victorious.
Keselowski inherited the lead for roughly 50 laps following Harvick’s mishap but said he had nothing for the Hendrick Motorsports driver down the stretch.
“We needed a caution. We had a really good short-run car — we needed more on the long runs — but we were trying as hard as we could. Man, I wanted another one of these wins at Dover, but we’ll try again and go on to next week,” Keselowski said following the event.
While Gordon was running away late in the going, the battle for the final transfer spot on the Chase Grid to the Contender Round was wide-open all afternoon long. Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and Kurt Busch each held the 12th sport a one point or another during Sunday afternoon’s event, with Kahne having to rally back from two laps down after a loose lug nut necessitated an unscheduled pit stop.
However, Kahne was able to fight back to only being one lap down, and an ill race car in the waning laps for Kurt Busch allowed Kahne to eke out the final transfer spot by just two points over Allmendinger.
“I had a fast car, luckily Kenny (Francis) made great calls. The team prepared a great car, so I was fortunate to have that and drive our way back to barely advance,” Kahne said. “I’m glad NASCAR let it go and just let us race for it. It was pretty interesting, but I’m glad we made it. We had to fight hard.”
Allmendinger ended up trapped two laps down and finished 23rd after starting the afternoon inside the Chase as the 10th seed, and said he didn’t feel like his JTG Daugherty Racing team deserved to advance after their race Sunday.
“We sucked overall all day today,” Allmendinger said. “We weren’t good enough. We didn’t deserve to make it. I’m not disappointed about not making it, I’m just disappointed in running like this. That was all I had, I’m worn out. I was trying to get every spot possible.”
Busch was six points shy of the last transfer at the checkered flag, and was disappointed in the final outcome after running inside the top ten at points throughout the day.
“It (the car) was just tight the last 100 miles,” Busch said. “I felt like we were in good position to advance, but you just can’t expect to advance by running 15th. You have to be more competitive.”
Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola were the other two drivers who failed to advance to the Contender Round.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now moves to Kansas Speedway next Sunday for round four of the Chase and the first race of the Contender Round. Jeff Gordon won at Kansas in the spring, while Kevin Harvick is the defending fall race winner.