By Kayla Darrow – And then there were 12. Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway marked the first elimination race in NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup format. Emotions ran high as drivers left it all out on the track to solidify their place in the championship battle. @JeffGordonWeb won the race, but there is still plenty of other action to discuss.
In case you missed it, here are five things to know about Sunday’s AAA 400:
1. Who Didn’t Make The Cut: It came down to the wire, but @AJDinger, @KurtBusch, @GBiffle and @Aric_Almirola were all eliminated from the Chase this past Sunday. All four drivers struggled with handling and were not able to finish on the lead lap. Two points separated 13th place Allmendinger from the last Chase transfer spot, showing just how tight fans can expect the rest of the Chase to be.
“It’s disappointing to miss it by two points, but we didn’t deserve to be in it with the run that we had. We have to look at it – I’m not going to take a moral victory out of it to miss it by two points, it’s disappointing, but we know we are making steps in the right direction,” said Allmendinger after the race. “We beat some good cars, but we have seven races to go. Just because we didn’t make it doesn’t mean our season is over with. We have to keep working and get better. We have seven races to go. I will be disappointed tonight, but be ready to go tomorrow morning.”
2. Déjà vu for @KevinHarvick: Same track, pretty much the same story for Kevin Harvick. After dominating the first 100 laps from the pole, Harvick radioed in saying he felt like something was broken in the left front of his car. He then lost the lead to Brad @Keselowski at Lap 148 but managed to keep running in the top-five. At lap 252, things took a turn for the worse when Harvick’s left front tire went down, messing up the car’s splitter. After pitting, it was revealed the tire’s inner valve stem went bad. Oddly enough, this was the same problem that plagued Harvick during Dover’s July race. Harvick and his team rallied back to place 13th but certainly did not come home with the finish they were hoping for.
“A lug nut got in between the wheel and the brake rotor and knocked the valve stem out. Crazy. Just handing out early Christmas presents to people for winning races that we should be winning. But all in all, the Budweiser guys did a great job. It’s just crazy luck. It’s just unbelievable that it can happen. The shock broke first, and we could beat them on three shocks, but we couldn’t beat them on three tires.”
3. @KyleLarsonRacin, the Wonder Kid: Kyle Larson was once again the highest-finishing non-Chase racer and highest-finishing rookie this past weekend. After starting in the seventh position, Larson slipped as far back as 20th with an extremely loose racecar. However, the team and driver again were able to dial in their car before it was too late and began moving forward through the field. Larson raced as high as third before finishing in 6th place.
“I’d be really happy about my three races in this round if I was in the Chase, but yeah it was a really good finish for us. We were terrible the first two runs. I was doing all I could do to not crash the car. I was so loose I was just hanging on,” said Larson afterwards. “Everyone did a really good job on making huge adjustments to make the Target Chevy fast. Once we did we were a top-10 car immediately, and we just kept working on it and got better and better.”
4. Other Non-Chase Notables: Two other non-Chase drivers were able to crack a top-10 finish this weekend. @MartinTruex_Jr started from the back of the field in 26th place and battled a tight car for most of the race. Truex Jr. and his crew didn’t give up and made the correct adjustments, resulting in a 7th place finish for the team. @ClintBowyer also placed in the top-10 with a ninth-place finish at Dover. Bowyer also dealt with a tough-handling car all day, as his car often swung from being extremely loose to “plowing tight.”
“We fought hard and never gave up today. The guys did a good job in the pits. We got the car better every single stop, and at the end, it was at its best. Track position is important because it’s so hard to pass here,” said Truex Jr. after the race. “What we are doing now is getting ready for next year. Trying to figure out how to make the car better and how to communicate better as a team. The whole nine yards and we are making progress. Everybody has done a good job the past couple of weeks sticking together, not getting frustrated and working hard.”
5. One Heck of A Comeback Story: Things were looking grim for @KaseyKahne at Lap 162 when he pitted early due to a loose left rear tire. Kahne immediately fell two laps down and out of a Chase transfer spot. He then pitted off-cycle again at Lap 248, which momentarily put him four laps down. The No. 5 Farmer’s Insurance team caught somewhat of a lucky break though, when the pit stops cycled through under green, allowing Kahne to get back to only being 2 laps down. After gaining one more lap back under another caution, Kahne was less than five points out of the last Chase transfer spot. He and his team showed incredible resilience from here on out and picked off just enough cars to make it to the next round of Chase.
“I am glad NASCAR let us race for it today because that is the only way I made it in. I guess if a couple cautions came or something we could have gotten the lucky dog but we had a better car than some of the other guys and we were able to race our way in,” said Kahne afterwards. “Kenny [Francis] did a great job and our team did a great job in preparation in giving us a top five or top three car. We just need to work on pit road. We have needed to work on that all year, and now it’s crunch time. So if we want to keep going, we need to really step it up.”
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