Facing likely elimination, Kevin Harvick did what he had to: he won Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway to advance to the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The defending Sprint Cup champion dominated, leading 355 of the event’s 400 laps. Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola.
“That guy in the seat brings us together and makes it happen,” winning crew chief Rodney Childers said of Harvick.
Sixth through 10th were Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.
The news was not so good for four other drivers, who became the first to be eliminated from further advancement in the Chase: six-time champ Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer
Johnson suffered a broken rear axle seal on Lap 104, requiring a complete repair of the rear axle assembly, costing him to miss 36 laps in the garage. He ultimately finished 41st in the race and missed advancing in the Chase by 12 points.
MORE: Results and stats for Sprint Cup’s AAA 400 at Dover
MORE: Driver points: Harvick, Earnhardt advance; Johnson, McMurray eliminated
How Harvick won: Sheer determination and unwavering confidence that he could get the job done led to Harvick’s first career win at Dover. After rough finishes at Chicagoland (42nd) and Loudon (21st), Harvick was focused on just one thing: winning – and he was not going to let anyone deny him. Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth led 24 laps before Harvick took over with unquestionably the best car in the field. Harvick did everything right, from restarts to quick pit stops to saving fuel when he needed it at times. It was Harvick’s first win since March at Phoenix. Now that he’s advanced to the second round of the Chase, don’t be surprised if there are more wins to come in the remaining seven races for the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Who else had a good day: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, which was a good day in and of itself. But in doing so, and keeping fourth-place finisher Jamie McMurray at bay, Earnhardt advanced to the second round by one point, while McMurray failed to advance. … Kyle Busch, who came into the race on the Chase bubble, also did what he needed to do by finishing second, thus advancing to the second round. Busch didn’t have a car to match Harvick for the win, but in this case, finishing runner-up didn’t necessarily make Busch the first loser, as Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights would say. … Aric Almirola earned his fourth top-11 finish in his last five races. … It was a good day overall for non-Chase drivers, with four finishing in the top-10: Almirola, Kahne, Stenhouse and Larson.
Who had a bad day: Obviously, Jimmie Johnson and the other three drivers who were eliminated from further advancement in the Chase — Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer — had among the worst days of all. … Jeb Burton wrecked on Lap 192 and had to make a quick exit after bringing the car to pit road after it caught fire. Burton was uninjured. … Paul Menard finished three laps out and was eliminated from the Chase. Menard and Jamie McMurray both made the Chase for the first time in their respective careers this season, and both were eliminated after the first round.
Notable: This is the first time in the last 12 races that neither a Joe Gibbs Racing nor a Penske Racing driver did not win. … Harvick’s team broke into a chant of “I believe that we can win” in victory lane. … Jimmie Johnson, who was eliminated from advancement in the Chase: “I’ve lost championships this way and I’ve won championships this way. It’s not the way we want to end this season, it’s unfortunate it turned out this way, but that’s racing, there’s not much we can do about it.” … Jamie McMurray tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the points, but because Earnhardt finished ahead of him in the race, McMurray was eliminated from advancing to the second round. “I’m thrilled with our performance today,” McMurray said. “It’s frustrating that we weren’t able to make it to the next round. We just needed one more point.”
Quote of the day, No. 1: “Obviously, we weren’t in a great position (coming into) today. But that’s what these guys are made of and what teamwork is all about.” – Race-winner Kevin Harvick.
Quote of the day, No. 2: “I think we’re better than we were last year just because of the experiences and things that we’ve had.” – Kevin Harvick, which could be a bad omen for his fellow Chase competitors going forward.
What’s next: After the first four drivers were eliminated at Dover, the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins the second round Saturday night Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.