NASCAR Barometer: Gordon Scores 5th Dover Win

NASCAR Barometer: Gordon Scores 5th Dover Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Jeff Gordon overcame the weekend's fastest drivers at Dover on Sunday to claim his fifth win at Dover International Speedway and the last win of the Challenger round of the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. Though Gordon had the fastest car on long runs, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were the early rabbits that he had to chase. The veteran driver capitalized on Harvick's trouble, and beat Keselowski on track to dominate the final 100 laps of the race. Gordon ended up leading 94 of the race's 400 laps to score his third top-5 in the last five races and his fourth win of the season.

Sunday's AAA 400 was largely a quiet affair with long green-flag stretches and three cars that dominated various parts of the race. Harvick led the first half of the race, with Keselowski in chase. After Harvick dropped from contention it became Keselowski's chance to play pied piper. Gordon was able to reel the No. 2 in and take over until the race's finish, though. There were only five caution periods for 23 laps, and that meant Gordon's strong settings for long runs paid dividends.

Four drivers also saw their championship hopes die last weekend. Aric Almirola, A.J. Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, and Kurt Busch all succumbed to the new Chase elimination format, and failed to collect enough points to advance to the Contender round. The next two stages of elimination should prove to be even tighter than the first, and will ultimately climax with a duel in Miami's season finale.

UPGRADE

Jeff Gordon - Gordon was one of the few drivers able to work his way forward in Sunday's processional race. The veteran driver arguably had the fastest car Sunday afternoon on long runs. Once Harvick was out of the picture Gordon was able to challenge Keselowski in the final 100 laps. As soon as he took the lead from the Penske driver there was no looking back as the No. 24 marched on to score his fifth win at Dover. The win guaranteed his advancement to the next round of the Chase, but he likely would have made it through anyway. It was Gordon's fourth of the season, and demonstrates his capability to win yet another championship. Gordon has three Kansas wins and an average finish of 10.1 at the track from 17 starts.

Brad Keselowski -
Keselowski car was the only driver able to challenge Harvick for the lead early in Sunday's running, and took advantage of tire trouble to take his turn at the front of the field. After Harvick dropped from contention Keselowski only had Gordon to contend with. Unfortunately, the No. 2 wasn't up to the challenge and slowly fell to veteran, ultimately dropping off the No. 24's bumper in the closing laps. The handling of the Penske car simply wasn't good enough to stay close to the leader, and the team finished second as a result. Keselowski struggled a bit in his most recent Kansas races, finishing outside of the top 10 in the last two there. He does have a Kansas win from 2011, though.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne found himself on the outside looking in early in Sunday's race. The Hendrick Motorsports driver fell multiple laps down to the leaders before the race even reached the halfway mark due to pitting for a loose wheel, and that pushed him into elimination territory. He and the team never gave up, though. Their perseverance to work their way back into contention and fight for positions enabled them to pick up just enough points to advance to the next round of the Chase. Kahne has never won at Kansas, but has collected four top-5s and seven top-10s at the track in 14 starts. This team is now looking forward to a stretch of three tracks that are among Kahne's best.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson is expected to dominate when the series visits Dover. Last weekend the No. 48 appeared likely to continue its run of average performances, though. Johnson's practices weren't stellar, and questions surrounded his momentum as the Chase progressed. By the time the laps were complete Johnson worked his way into a very solid third-place finishing position. The No. 48 turned in the result with little fanfare, but it was his second consecutive top-5 finish. He now starts the Contender round of the Chase on equal footing with the other 11 drivers, and the clean slate could play to his favor as he works to advance further. Johnson has two wins at Kansas with an average finish of 7.6, so things look good for him going forward.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick - Last weekend in Dover was nearly perfect for Harvick. He was the fastest car all weekend, and jumped out to a lead from the moment the green flag waved barely letting any other competitor have a sniff well into the second half of the race. He was forced to deal with a front suspension problem, which ultimately may have led to his downfall on the afternoon. He suffered a flat front tire that put him behind with just over 100 laps to go, and that ruined any chance he had of challenging for the win and the perfect weekend. The team can look confidently forward to next week, though. Harvick started from pole the last two Kansas races, finishing first and second in each.

Greg Biffle -
Like he did to get into the Chase, Biffle sweated it out on Sunday. This time things didn't go his way, and he failed to advance. The driver of the No. 16 truthfully never had anything for his competition in the Chase standings at Dover. His running position kept him in the mix around the transfer spot in the Chase, but his 21st-place finish didn't get the job done. The team peaked just before the Chase began, but has returned to its struggles the past three events. It is too bad Biffle didn't advance because Kansas has been a pretty good track for him. He has two victories in addition to nine top-10s from 16 career starts there.

Jamie McMurray -
Based on McMurray's practice speeds and qualifying position fantasy owners can be forgiven for expecting a much better finish that he gave them on Sunday. The driver of the No. 1 car finished a lowly 22nd position after starting in the top five. The team had been racing very well prior to last weekend, bagging three consecutive top-10 finishes heading into the weekend. Fantasy owners have been waiting for this team to work their way into Victory Lane all season, and a golden opportunity may have slipped past them last weekend. McMurray's three top-10 finishes at Kansas only help his average finish at the track to 20th position, which doesn't make his prospects for next week's race much better.

Kurt Busch -
Busch spent all afternoon bouncing in and out of the Chase elimination zone. He was able to take advantage of some drivers' misfortune, but not able to consolidate a position that would secure advancement to the next round. When the distance was complete Busch was outside of the top 12 Chase competitors, and out of a chance to win a second championship. He blamed himself for the poor performance, and admitted that his 18th-finishing position wasn't good enough to warrant a position in the next round of the championship playoffs. Next week's race is a new week, though, but Busch has never won at Kansas. He only has four top-10 finishes there to contribute to his average result of 17.6.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
A disappointing first practice put Earnhardt on his heels all weekend. His poor practice translated to a rather disappointing starting position, which ultimately produced a lackluster race for the No. 88. Earnhardt was an also-ran car Sunday afternoon, finishing 17th at a track that he typically runs fairly well at. While he advanced to the next round of the Chase, Earnhardt has just one top-10 finish in his last five races and admitted the team is worried. Another three races like the team just had could spell the end of their championship hopes. Some good news is that from 16 Kansas starts Earnhardt has finished half of them in the top 10. His average finish at the track is 15.2.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Austin Dillon - After being overshadowed by fellow rookie Kyle Larson the second half of the season, Dillon was poised to claim some ground with a top-10 starting position in Dover on Sunday. The No. 3 driver squandered the opportunity and was largely disappointing on Sunday, though. Shortly after the race started Dillon started falling backward in the running, and ultimately finished a very disappointing 24th. He is now 21st in the points, nearly 100 behind Rookie of the Year rival Larson with no top-10 finishes since July's Brickyard 400. Dillon has put together a respectable first season with Richard Childress Racing, but more top-15 finishes and a return to the top-10 should be his focus for the remaining races of 2014.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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