Jeff Gordon drove by Brad Keselowski in lapped traffic on lap 305 of the 400-lap AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday and sailed on to his fourth win of the 2014 season and his first win of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With the win, Gordon clinched a spot in the Contender Round of the Chase. The same can't be said for former champ Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola who were eliminated and saw their hopes of winning the championship vanish at Dover.
Busch finished 18th after being in position to move on, but he faded in the last part of the race.
"It was just tight the last 100 miles," he said. "I thought we were in position to advance, but you can't expect to advance by running 15th. You have to be more competitive. We gave it a good run. ... I just chalk it up to me not getting the job done."
Allmendinger was more succinct.
"We sucked all day. We didn't deserve to make it," said Allmendinger, who finished 23rd. "I'm not disappointed we didn't make it, I'm disappointed to run like this. ... We just weren't good enough."
Almirola lamented a lack of execution and consistency throughout the entire Sprint Cup season.
"Just sad, just disappointed," said Almirola, who finished 28th. "I picked a really bad day to run like that. That's what we found this year. We're just really inconsistent. We have really good weeks, and really bad weeks. This week we just missed it."
Throughout the second half of the race, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne battled for the 12th and final spot into the next round of the Chase. Kahne wound up with the spot as Busch reported a vibration and lost positions as he was passed by drivers that included Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.
Allmendinger wound up the first driver out, missing advancement by two points.
Keselowski, who finished second to Gordon on Sunday, and Penske teammate Joey Logano had already clinched advancing before starting their engines on Sunday.
The other drivers advancing to the Contender round are: Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.
The Contender Round consists of three races at Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. A driver who wins one of those three races will automatically advance to the Eliminator Round. The rest of the eight-driver field to make the Eliminator Round will be determined by the points scored in the three Contender Round races.
Johnson finished third on Sunday, followed by Logano and Kenseth was fifth.
"I feel good about that (a fourth-place finish)," Logano said. "It was a little bit of a tougher week for us. We didn't have a very fast car off the truck, but (crew chief) Todd Gordon and all these Shell/Pennzoil guys did a great job giving me a car that was pretty racy."
Gordon pulled away from Keselowski, but after a cycle of green-flag pit stops with about 70 laps remaining, Keselowski looked to reel in Gordon. Gordon, though, was able to maintain a cushion of just over a second and began pulling away again in the final 10 laps.
The No. 2 (Keselowski) was really good on short runs, but we could run him down," Gordon said. "Of course, he made us work for it there at the end, because he was so good on short runs and he got to me. I was really, really tight in traffic there at the end."
Harvick dominated the race before suffering from an issue with the valve stem on the left-front inner liner of his tire on lap 253. Up to that point, he had led 223 of the laps ran after starting on the pole. A caution for Harvick's trouble enabled him to remain on the lap, but he restarted the race 21st after running most of the event, to that point, up front. Keselowski inherited the lead.
"I don't know what happened to Kevin Harvick," Gordon said. "It was unfortunate for him. He was the class of the field. We were tuning on it to try to keep even with him. When I saw him go out, I knew we could compete with the No. 2 car (Keselowski)."
The yellow flag waved five times throughout the race, with most cautions being a result of debris. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought out a caution on lap 75, the second yellow flag of the race, and Harvick's tire problem resulted in the fifth and final caution of the event.
NOTES: Kevin Harvick's pole for the AAA 400 was his seventh pole start of the season, surpassing his pre-2014 career total of six. ... Jeff Gordon's win on Sunday was his fifth-career victory at Dover. ... Jimmie Johnson entered Dover as the winningest active driver at the track with nine victories. ... Johnson won the two most recent races at Dover prior to Sunday's race. ... The bottom nine of the 16 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers heading into the AAA 400 were separated by only 12 points. ... Chase drivers Kyle Busch and Joey Logano finished first and second in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Dover. ... The AAA 400 was Kurt Busch's 500th-career Cup race. His first also came at Dover in 2000