Posted By: Brian Eberly – Follow at @beberly18
October 4, 2015
Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday in dominant fashion. Harvick rolled off from the 15th position, but at Lap 24 took the lead from Matt Kenseth and never looked back in the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet.
The defending series champion led 355 of the 400 laps in what was basically a must-win situation to advance to the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Harvick entered Dover ranked 15th of the 16 drivers on the Chase Grid, 23 points behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the cutoff line.
The victory is the first for Harvick at Dover in 30 starts, the most starts of any active driver at the track without visiting victory lane.
As dominant as Harvick has been this season, Sunday was his first victory since Phoenix International Raceway in March – a span of 24 races without a victory.
“Well, it’s just one of those weekends where the car was really good and they believed. Everybody wins. That’s why there are so great,” Harvick said of his Stewart-Haas team in victory lane.
“I think we’re better than we were last year just because of the experiences and things that we’ve had. I think when we look at everything that’s gone on over the last couple of years, it’s just been a lot of fun. So, it’s just that never quit attitude. That’s what Tony Stewart said when we went to Homestead last year. He said, ‘Whatever you do, do not quit until they throw that checkered flag.”
Heavy rains impacted the weekend at Dover, washing out qualifying on Friday and allowing teams just 40 minutes of practice on Saturday. The cancellation of qualifying meant the 16 drivers vying for the Contender Round started at the front of the field when the green flag dropped on Sunday afternoon.
While the track stayed dry, it was cool, cloudy, and very windy throughout the afternoon. The wind lead to a lot of trash blowing around the track and drivers, spotters, and crew chiefs alike being concerned about getting trash on the grille of their cars and overheating. Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, and Kyle Busch were a few of the drivers that experienced debris issues, but were able to get it cleared before experiencing problems.
While Harvick was the dominant story of the day, Jimmie Johnson was the shocking story. Johnson, making his 500th career start, was a pre-race favorite as he has a series leading 10 victories at the track better known as “The Monster Mile.” Johnson suffered a broken rear axle seal that resulted in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet heading to the garage for repairs just past Lap 100 of the 400-lap event. By the time Johnson returned to the track, he was 37 laps down. Johnson stayed on track, but finished 41st and missed advancing to the next round by 12 points.
With 10 laps to go, just two points separated the ninth through 13th positions on the Chase grid. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished third at Dover and Jamie McMurray finished fourth, resulting in the drivers tied for the 12th and final position in the Contender Round. Earnhardt advanced via tie-breaker and McMurray’s championship hopes ended.
“I’m thrilled with our performance today. It’s frustrating that we weren’t able to make it to the next round, but it was a good day for the Nature Made car,” McMurray said. “We just needed one more point.”
Along with Johnson and McMurray, Paul Menard, and Clint Bowyer missed the cut and will no longer be eligible for the 2015 championship.
Martin Truex, Jr.’s No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet was on the grid when a NASCAR official required the team to return to inspection to correct the right rear quarter panel which was bowed out by the team after inspection. As a result, Truex was forced to the rear of the field for the start of the race for unapproved adjustments. NASCAR confirmed there would be no further penalties. Truex progressed through the field and ended the day with a 11th-place result.
“It is what it is we moved on, we did what we had to do,” Truex said of the penalty. “It wasn’t a great day for us. It wasn’t a great weekend. We have been just struggling trying to get the thing turning.”
The race was slowed by eight caution flags for 43 laps and featured 14 lead changes among three different drivers.
Those advancing to the Contender Round, in order of seed: Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Denny
Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Ryan
Newman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kevin Harvick.
The series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway next Saturday for the Bank of America 500 – the only Chase race that takes place under the lights.