DOVER, Del. -- Jeff Gordon didn’t worry about fuel strategy as Sunday’s race wound down at Dover International Speedway. Instead, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet narrowed the gap on then-leader Brad Keselowski and kept fighting for his sixth career victory at the one-mile concrete oval.
Despite improving four positions in the closing laps, Gordon couldn’t nab that final spot and took runner-up honors in the third race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Gordon was joined in the top 15 by teammates Jimmie Johnson (fourth), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th) and Kasey Kahne (15th).
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
Race finish: 15th
Chase position: Sixth.
Race recap: Kasey Kahne opened Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Dover from the ninth position and within the first 50 laps of green-flag racing was reporting a loose-handling condition with his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. Kahne maintained his position inside the top 10, but encountered misfortune when the yellow flag was waved on Lap 69 for debris. At that point, Kahne was on pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. The caution period put Kahne one lap down, and the driver of the No. 5 Chevy spent the next 175 laps battling the Lucky Dog position. On Lap 245, the yellow flag was waved again for debris, and this time, Kahne was in the right position. With the free pass, he returned as one of nine cars on the lead lap. Kahne was chasing teammate Jeff Gordon for the seventh spot when the caution flag was waved on Lap 308. The No. 5 team picked up a position during the ensuing pit stop to return to the field in seventh. Kahne pitted during a caution period on Lap 317 for an extra touch before the sprint to the finish at the one-mile oval. On Lap 346, crew chief Kenny Francis instructed Kahne that he likely will be one lap short on fuel and that he should save whenever possible. But saving fuel became a distant concern as Kahne noticed a shaking condition in his No. 5 Chevy, and he pitted so his team could change the loose tire with 46 laps to go. The pit stop put Kahne three laps down, and he returned to the track to finish 15th.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Race finish: Second.
Chase position: 10th.
Race recap: Jeff Gordon entered Sunday’s race with the same No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet he used to nearly win the June NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Dover. Gordon began this weekend’s 400-mile event from the sixth position and posted some of the fastest lap times as the race unfolded, climbing to run fourth by Lap 46. Gordon, who at first noted that his No. 24 Chevy was turning really well, worked with crew chief Alan Gustafson throughout the race to improve the car’s overall handling. Traffic seemed to really affect Gordon’s Chevy, and Gustafson maintained that the team just needed to find a tenth of a second more to be able to contend. On Lap 245 during a caution period, Gustafson instructed the No. 24 team to make significant adjustments, including with the track bar and spring rubber, to tune in the Chevy. Gordon was running fifth on the Lap 253 restart and held his position inside the top 10. He stopped during a subsequent caution period on Lap 317. As the race unfolded, most of the leaders went into fuel conservation mode, and Gordon, sufficient on fuel, began to post some of the fastest times on the track. Gordon moved into second with six laps left and held onto finish in that position, improving two spots in the championship standings to 10th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet
Race finish: Fourth.
Chase position: Second.
Race recap: Jimmie Johnson started Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Dover from 11th – his deepest starting spot at the one-mile oval since 2008 – and rallied through the field to lead late in the race. Johnson never was unhappy with the handling of his No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet during Sunday’s race with the exception of a few “snug” spots here and there. Crew chief Chad Knaus addressed the initially tight-handling issue, but also encouraged Johnson to try different lines.
Johnson, who maintained his position inside the top five for the majority of the race, was battling with Kyle Busch for the lead by Lap 278. After a Lap 308 caution period, Johnson’s pit crew put him position to line up on the front row with Busch for the restart. When the green flag waved, Johnson took the lead, but another, nearly immediate yellow flag halted the field once more. This time, Johnson opted to stay on the track and reclaimed the lead once more when the green flag waved on Lap 322. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet started to observe fuel mileage after two late-race caution flags gave him the opportunity to save a bit of fuel. With roughly 40 laps left, Knaus instructed Johnson to give up the lead and run 80 percent throttle in the interest of fuel strategy. This meant a loss of two positions as the race wound down, but with each passing lap, Knaus improved his optimism on the No. 48 team’s ability to make it to the end without stopping. Johnson held on and finished fourth and move into second in the championship rankings – just five points behind leader Keselowski.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet
Race finish: 11th.
Chase position: Seventh.
Race recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was relatively quiet on the radio at the outset of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Dover. During the first 30 laps, Earnhardt reported that his No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet was experiencing some handling issues in the corners, but overall it was running well. Within the first 46 laps, Earnhardt climbed from 23rd to 17th. Earnhardt was knocked off the lead lap when the caution flag was waved on Lap 46. The driver of the No. 88 Chevy just happened to be heading for his pit stall at the time the yellow flag was waved, putting him one lap down. To avoid being another lap down, Earnhardt skipped the stop and returned to the field. He instead made his pit stop during the caution period. Earnhardt spent the remainder of the race fighting for the Lucky Dog position so he could return to the lead lap. Running 12th with 46 laps to go, Earnhardt was chasing 11th-place Joey Logano, the first car one-lap down. Crew chief Steve Letarte called Earnhardt down pit road for a scheduled stop with 13 laps to go for fuel to reach the finish line. Earnhardt crossed the line 11th.