Kevin Harvick did what he needed to do to advance into the second round of NASCAR’s Chase on Sunday, winning the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Harvick, NASCAR’s 2014 champion, was 15th in the Chase standings entering the race, and essentially needed a victory to advance to the 12-driver second round. That’s what Harvick did, leading 355 of 400 laps and finishing 2.6 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch.
As great a day as it was for Harvick, it was just as disappointing for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson finished 41st and will miss the rest of the Chase after a broken rear axle seal forced his car to the garage for 37 laps.
Joining Johnson on the sidelines after the first round will be Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard (25th Sunday) and Clint Bowyer (14th). McMurray, who finished fourth, tied Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the the 12th spot. But Earnhardt’s third-place finish served as the tiebreaker against McMurray.
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Kyle Busch’s finish allowed him to move from outside the Chase cutoff zone and into the second round. Non-Chase drivers Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
The second round of the Chase will begin Saturday with the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A caution on Lap 354 allowed Harvick to pit for two tires, but more importantly, to fill his gas tank. It’s uncertain whether he would have had enough fuel to make it to the end otherwise. As it was, Harvick quickly retook the lead from Matt Kenseth and stayed ahead the rest of the way.
How the NASCAR Chase drivers fared (all 12 drivers advancing will begin second round with equal points):
1. Matt Kenseth* (2,137 points): Already had a spot clinched in second round, so finishing seventh Sunday was all about staying out of trouble.
2. Joey Logano (14 behind): Tenth-place finish allowed Logano to remain safely inside the Chase cutline.
3. Denny Hamlin* (18 behind): Hurt by a speeding penalty in pit road early, finished 18th. Had clinched spot in second round after victory at Chicagoland.
4. Carl Edwards (19 behind): Complained of a ominous sound in his engine at one point but finished 15th.
5. Martin Truex Jr. (33 behind): Managed 11th-place finish after being penalized for unapproved adjustments and starting at rear of the field.
6. Kurt Busch Here (37 behind): Finished 17th, still in contention to win second Cup championship.
7. Jeff Gordon (37 behind): Remains winless this season (was 12th Sunday) but moves on to second round and chasing his fifth title.
8. Brad Keselowski (37 behind): Sixteenth-place finish allowed him to remain safely in the Chase. Said his Ford didn’t have necessary speed to contend.
9. Kyle Busch (38 behind): Needed a strong performance and he delivered. Runner-up spot moved him from outside the cutline and into the second round.
10. Ryan Newman (38 behind): Stays alive in the Chase after 19th-place finish. Nothing spectacular, but he has proven he doesn’t need to be to advance.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (39 behind): Advances by the slimmest of margins, tying Jamie McMurray in the 12th spot but winning a tiebreaker (third-place finish Sunday being the highest finish in Round 1 of either driver).
12. Jamie McMurray (39 behind): A fourth-place finish wasn’t enough, loses tiebreaker with Earnhardt and misses moving on in Chase in first playoff appearance.
13. Jimmie Johnson (51 behind): Johnson’s championship hopes died when a broken rear axle seal sent his No. 48 Chevy to the garage. By the time the problem was fixed, Johnson was 37 laps down and his chances for a record-tying seventh championship were gone.
14. Kevin Harvick* (55 behind): A victory was the only sure way he knew he could advance into second round. So he turned in a dominating performance.
15. Paul Menard (62 behind): Wasn’t a factor in his first Chase. Finished 25thSunday.
16. Clint Bowyer (89 behind): Never had much to offer during the Chase, aside from the news last week that he will replace Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017.
Note: * Advcanced to second round with victory.
▪ There was no shortage of drama, especially as the laps ticked off while Johnson’s crippled Chevy sat in the garage for 37 laps. And then Harvick, who had to win, won on a track at which he had never won.
▪ Tough luck for McMurray, whose fourth-place finish wasn’t enough to pull him out of a tie with Earnhardt Jr. for the final spot. Earnhardt broke that tie by finishing third.
▪ The best news of the weekend – if you’re not Harvick and his team – was Sunday’s weather, which allowed for 400 uninterrupted laps of racing. Rain stayed away after plaguing Dover on Friday (when it washed out all track activities) and Saturday (forcing a 31-minute delay in the Xfinity race).
They said it
▪ “When you’re backed in a corner like we were, you’re not going to ride around in fifth.” – Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers on his team’s domination.
▪ “I wasn’t going to go bash my head against a concrete wall somewhere for a loose wheel.” – Earnhardt, who took advantage of a late pit stop to tighten up a left-rear tire.
▪ “Don’t let this week overwhelm you.” – Stewart-Haas Racing director of racing Greg Zipadelli to Harvick, who needed to win to ensure himself a spot in the Chase’s second round.
Bank Of America 500
When: 7 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord.
Radio: Performance Racing Network.
Charlotte race week schedule
1:30-2:55 p.m.: Cup practice
3-3:55 p.m.: Xfinity practice
5:30-6:55 p.m.: Xfinity practice
7:20 p.m.: Cup qualifying
8:40 p.m.: Whelen Southern Modified Tour race
3:30-4:25 p.m.: Cup practice
4:45 p.m.: Xfinity qualifying
6:30-7:20 p.m.: Final Cup practice
8 p.m.: Drive For The Cure 300 (Xfinity race)
6:25 p.m.: Driver introductions
7 p.m: Bank of America 500