NASCAR Sprint Cup: Harvick completely dominated AAA 400
In what was one of the most dominating victories this season, reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick won the AAA 400, finally earning himself a place in Round 2 of the Chase. Dale Jr. finished the race in front of McMurray, thus making it to the second round even though he was tied with McMurray. With twelve points behind Dale Jr. and McMurray was the most tragic figure of the race, Jimmie Johnson. He encountered problems with his early on in the race and lost a lot of time in the garage, losing the place in The Chase as well. Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer didn’t find themselves in the second round as well.
Dover International Speedway saw the last race of the first phase of The Chase. Matt Kenseth was on pole for the 400-lap long AAA 400, followed by Hamlin, Edwards and Logano. Reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick started the race from fifteenth. Martin Truex Jr. failed the pre-race inspections and started the race from the back of the grid. As you already know, Kenseth and Hamlin already qualified for the next round, having won at Chicagoland and New Hampshire.
The race started 2:52 local time with Kenseth keeping the lead. On lap 3, Jeb Burton brought the first caution when he crashed against the wall. The race restarted on lap 7 and by that time, Kevin Harvick already improved significantly and by lap 20, he moved to top three. Tony Stewart had problems with debris on the grill of his car, but he managed to get rid of it without pitting. On lap 24, the unstoppable Harvick took over the lead from Kenseth. On lap 41, competition caution flew and after the pit cycle completed, Harvick returned to the lead. Johnson and Hamlin were penalized for speeding in the pit road.
— #TheChase (@NASCAR) October 4, 2015
By the end of the first quarter of the race, Harvick had a 5 second over second-placed placed Kyle Busch. Jimmie Johnson pitted on lap 104 for a car checkup, but he didn’t return to the track and went straight to the garage. The move he was forced to make jeopardized his chances of surviving the first round of the Chase. To make matters worse, it was Johnson’s jubilant 500th Sprint Cup race start, and it was on a track which he had conquered ten times, and he was only one lap away from leading 3000 laps in his Sprint Cup career. Debris on the track soon caused a caution on lap 112. Kyle Busch went to the lead as Kevin Harvick pitted, but as the pit cycle completed, Harvick was in the lead again. On lap 117, the race restarted. On lap 139, Jimmie Johnson resumed, 37 laps down. On lap 192, the caution came out for Jeb Burton who slammed against the wall again. Burton limped to the pits, but his car caught fire. Pit road opened and top four drivers went for refuel and tire change.
Halfway into the race, Harvick was in the lead under the safety car, and the race restarted on lap 206. Not much happened until lap 232 when competition caution flew for debris. Harvick, Edwards and Busch brothers all pitted, and Kyle Busch went to the lead. The race went green on lap 237 with Kyle Busch storming away from the rest of the field, followed by Truex Jr. and Joey Logano. Hamlin was penalized again for speeding in the pit lane. Kevin Harvick pushed hard and regained the lead on lap 248. Race leader pulled a five second gap again, completely dominating the race. Paul Menard made an unscheduled pit stop on lap 290, followed by several other drivers.
The final quarter of the race started with Harvick being almost two seconds in front of Kyle Busch who was followed by his brother Kurt. AJ Allmendinger caused the sixth caution of the race on lap 312 who lost control of his car, luckily without collecting anyone while sliding on the track. When the pit road opened, race leaders pitted and Kevin Harvick won the pit race, keeping his lead. With 84 laps to go, the race restarted. Dale Jr. reported issues with a loose wheel and with 47 laps to go, caution flag flew for Brett Moffitt who hit the wall. Matt Kenseth stayed on the track and race leaders pitted and Harvick returned from the pits on second, with Kyle Larson climbing up to third. With 42 to go, the race restarted and Harvick easily reclaimed the lead and Larson made it to second.
— #TheChase (@NASCAR) October 4, 2015
With 29 laps to go, Landon Casill’s car started smoking, which caused the safety car to come out. Kurt Busch went to the pits to settle the issues with his wheel, and so did Brad Keselowski. On the restart, the battle for second went underway and Earnhardt Jr. went to fourth, soon improving to third, which was a crucial move for him to stay in The Chase. With 12 laps to go, Greg Biffle almost lost control of his car, but made a save and kept the race in green. Harvick crowned his masterful performance with a win over Kyle Busch, Dale Jr, Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola in top five. Kasey Kahne was sixth, followed by the next Chase driver Matt Kenseth. Ricky Stenhouse and Kyle Larsoon were 8th and 9th, with Logano, Truex and Gordon occupying the next three spots.