DOVER, Del. » Jeff Gordon doused Team Penske’s hot streak with a champagne bath in Victory Lane.
Sticky and sweet, Gordon had secured an emphatic automatic spot in the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
But Gordon’s entry in the field of 12 was all but guaranteed even before he dominated the closing laps Sunday at Dover International Speedway. What wasn’t so sure was that Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne was coming along for the ride.
Kahne survived a bumpy 400 miles, falling four laps back before rallying for a 20th-place finish to nab the 12th and final spot in the field.
"Kasey made it a pretty long day," owner Rick Hendrick said. "We were watching the monitor at the end of the race hoping that we didn’t have a caution and Jeff could win it and Kasey could get in. I didn’t know exactly how close it was going to be until I watched that monitor."
NASCAR tried to inject its 10-race Chase format with a revamped formula for crowning a champion this season. Under NASCAR’s elimination format, four drivers will be knocked out after every third race. Dover marked the third race.
That meant plenty of nerves all around the track — and tons of scoreboard watching.
Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola were eliminated from championship contention. Four more drivers will drop out following the next three-race segment that starts next week at Kansas Speedway.
Gordon joined Chase winners Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano as the three drivers who were guaranteed a berth in the next Chase round with victories.
With A.J. Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola eliminated on Sunday, these 12 drivers still have a shot at the Sprint Cup title:
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Joey Logano
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Matt Kenseth
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Kyle Busch
9. Ryan Newman
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11. Carl Edwards
12. Kasey Kahne
"I think it makes a statement of what type of team we are," Gordon said after his fourth win of the season and 92nd overall. "I think that it makes a statement that we’re a team to beat for this championship."
Kevin Harvick also advanced, along with the Hendrick duo of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin was the lone driver of the bottom four entering Dover to race his way into the top 12. The points will reset for the Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega bracket.
"The tracks just keep getting better for us as the Chase goes on," Hamlin said. "This is going to be a great comeback story."
Gordon won for the fifth time at Dover and first since 2001, when he won the last of his four Cup championships.
"I’m excited about our chances, not just these next three, but all the way to Homestead," Gordon said.
With crew chief Kenny Francis steadying the course after rough pit stops on the No. 5, Kahne survived a scramble that saw him nudge out Allmendinger for the final spot. Allmendinger fell two points shy of the cutoff. Busch was six off, Biffle seven and Almirola 18.
"I never really got nervous at all and I just raced real hard the whole time," Kahne said. "Kenny started telling me we were tied for 12th and this was with 30 to go. Then he would tell me we were one point in and then maybe two points in, and then he wasn’t positive. Then I started getting a little bit worried, so it was intense inside the car."
Dan Gelston, Associated Press