Jeff Gordon said when he got to Kansas that leading the points was fine, but everyone would need a win to make the 2014 Chase. Saturday night Gordon got that win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway for his first victory since October of last year. The key to the win came on the final round of green flag pit stops with 32 laps to go. Gordon’s crew got him out .02 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick and that’s just about the margin Gordon beat Harvick to the checkered flag.
“It was great to see the groove widen out and get a top groove going and a bottom groove and a middle groove. It was a lot of fun racing out there,” Gordon said in Victory Lane. “Kevin (Harvick) was really strong. I felt like there were times that if I could get in front of him I thought we could keep him behind us and we had to prove that there at the end. I almost didn’t do it. Luckily we got to the start/finish line ahead of him. “
Harvick had started from the pole and led the most laps (119) but fell back during the midpoint of the 267-lap affair. He was able to rally back but the final stop was the difference as Harvick later admitted that he had run out of gas as he was coming into his pit stall.
“I was paying attention to the fuel pressure gauge instead of the pit road speed light. I lost some time there, “Harvick said. “I found a groove that worked really well there at the end. I slipped with about eight or nine laps to go. Just was able to make the ground back up, but not get by.”
Behind Harvick, Kasey Kahne was third, Joey Logano who led the second most laps on the night (63) was fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth.
“It was all strategy,” Logano said. “We just weren’t fast enough I guess. That last restart, the 4 (Harvick) and 24 (Gordon) just took off and left me. I was like, ‘Man, wait for me!’ Those guys were quick. We missed our adjustments a little bit trying to keep up with the track. I feel like we should have finished third. The 5 (Kahne) got by me when I was trying to get around a lap car and I am disappointed in myself there.”
The green came after a 35-minute weather delay caused by lightning from a nearby thunderstorm. When the field was finally let loose, Harvick was able to jump to the point on the outside, Logano was second Edwards third. By lap 13, Harvick’s lead was just over one second; Tony Stewart had moved up to fourth.
Harvick was setting a blistering pace and by lap 30 his lead was nearly three seconds. Logano was still second, Carl Edwards third, Stewart still held fourth. By lap 37 Harvick was starting to lap the field and had put Denny Hamlin, who had won the week prior, a lap down.
Green flag pit stops started on lap 40; Harvick pitted from the lead on lap 42. The first caution came out on lap 45 when Clint Bowyer went for a solo spin exiting turn 2, he didn’t hit anything and continued. Brad Keselowski was in the lead but had yet to stop. Because the caution came during a cycle of green flag stops Harvick was the free pass car. The caution also came at a good time for Harvick as it turned out he had a loose wheel. Because of the amount of cars off the lead lap and with wave arounds and Harvick’s free pass, Harvick lined up second on the inside with Keselowski on point on the outside.
It took only two laps before Harvick was back in the lead with Keselowski second. Jimmie Johnson however was fast approaching in third.
The second caution came on lap 60 for a multi-car crash that started when David Ragan slowed; Ryan Truex got into him and took out several others including Landon Cassill and Michael Annett. Several of the top runners in the field came in for stops, most for fuel only; Harvick stayed out to keep the lead, Keselowski stayed out in second. The restart came on lap 67; Johnson dove to the bottom underneath Keselowski to try and snag second but failed and fell back into third. Meanwhile Harvick went back to the point.
Four laps later on lap 71 Hamlin spun exiting turn 2 onto the backstretch bringing out the third caution. He avoided contact and continued. Those behind the two leaders all came in for stops, led by third place Johnson who won the race off pit road and restarted 17th.
The restart came on lap 75 and Harvick once again stretched out is lead in the front, Edwards went to second, Gordon followed into third. Keselowski continued to fall back and was soon passed by Logano for fourth. By lap 89, Gordon had taken over second and was stalking Harvick. Gordon was forced in for a green flag stop on lap 101 though and gave up the spot. Harvick came in a lap later for his stop.
Logano stayed out and took over the lead as he was off sequence. On lap 111 Marcos Ambrose spun exiting turn 4 and slid across the infield and brought out caution number four. Thanks to the timing during green flag stops, many of the cars who had just pitted were caught a lap down. Those who had not pitted came in for stops. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race off pit road after taking only two tires. The caution was extended when the lights went out on the outside of the backstretch. After NASCAR polled the drivers and got a thumbs up, Earnhardt led to the green on lap 119 and was soon moving away from second place Logano; Kahne was third. Logano was soon catching Earnhardt and by lap 122 took the lead.
Those who had been among the leaders earlier, including Harvick were back in the field unable to move up. Harvick was 18th and reporting that he couldn’t move forward.
“I think after the last race we saw here was exactly, probably not to the extent that everybody expected, but I think that everybody kind of knew it was going to be hard to pass,” Harvick said.
At the halfway point Logano led, Kahne was second, Earnhardt third, Stewart was fourth, Jamie McMurray fifth.
Just past the halfway point, Kahne was able to get by Logano to take over the lead. Logano was soon fighting Earnhardt for second, Earnhardt took over the spot on lap 149. A lap later McMurray hit the wall exiting turn 4; the car trailed flames as it rolled to a stop on pit road and caution number five came out. After a lengthy clean up on pit road the leaders came in for stops. Kahne led off pit road, Stewart was second, Hamlin was third; the top three took only two tires while behind them on four tires Logano was fourth, Earnhardt fifth.
The green came back out on lap 161 with Kahne pushing Logano to the front on the outside. A lap later Logano with four fresh tires went back to the lead. Meanwhile Danica Patrick moved into fifth as Hamlin slipped to sixth. Harvick had made his way back to 10th and looked to continue moving forward. On lap 172 Patrick moved passed Earnhardt and Stewart to take over third. Meanwhile Logano had a 2.5 second lead over Kahne.
The sixth caution waved on lap 179 when Kurt Busch spun coming out of turn 4. The leaders came in for stops; Logano won off pit road, Kahne was second, Earnhardt third, Harvick came out in fourth, Patrick fifth. Johnson and Kyle Busch stayed out though and were first and second.
The green came back out on lap 184, Johnson shot to the front, with Logano passing Busch for second. A lap later a huge crash erupted out of turn four bringing out caution seven. AJ Allmendinger got loose under Paul Menard. As he slid into the front stretch Allmendinger clipped Justin Allgaier who shot up into David Gilliland; both cars exploded with the Gilliland machine becoming airborne before coming to rest just past the start-finish line. After several tense moments, both drivers emerged from their mangled cars unharmed.
It took several laps for clean up before pit road opened, though only a few came in for stops as Johnson continued to lead over Logano. The green came out on lap 193; Logano was able to get past Johnson for the lead; as Johnson fell into the sights of Harvick.
On lap 203 the eighth caution came out when Kurt Busch spun again exiting turn 2. Johnson was among the few coming in for pit stops. Logano stayed out to lead, with Harvick in second. The green came out on lap 207 and Harvick was back to the lead. Gordon got past Earnhardt for third a lap later. Harvick was soon out to a lead of just over two seconds. Gordon caught and passed Logano or second on lap 219.
The final scheduled green flag stops started with 32 laps to go. On the track, Gordon had cut the lead to just over a second. Gordon came in with 30 to go; Harvick followed a lap later. Gordon was able to take the spot over Harvick after the stops. Five drivers at the front of the field stayed out thanks to being off pit stop sequences and Johnson held the lead until he was forced in for fuel with 11 laps to go. Gordon in sixth was the leader among those who had stopped.. Keselowski was in the lead with 9 to go but came in for his stop finally handing the lead to Gordon. Harvick was less than half a second behind with six laps to go. But with four laps to go, Gordon had stretched it out to a one second lead. Harvick made one final charge on the last lap and fell short by .112 seconds as Gordon scored the 89th win of his career.
“I have been having so much fun,” Gordon said. “I’m going to be 43 (years old) this year and I feel like I’m 25 again. We had a lot of things that didn’t go our way in the first half and then in the second half we just stuck with it. We were just grinding it out and then that last pit stop got us out front and it was awesome.”
Edwards was sixth, Patrick finished a career best seventh.
“Gibson (Tony, crew chief) did a good job in making changes for the race and it was good from the get-go,” Patrick said. “I think what says even more are two things: It was really good on restarts and it was really good when it wasn’t quite right, and really good on long runs. And I think that just goes to show that this is a new car and they built a great one. And we’ve got more of these coming. That’s the even better news.”
Aric Almirola was eighth, Johnson and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.
Gordon ,who now has three wins at Kansas the last coming in 2002, remains atop the points. Kenseth is second, Kyle Busch third, Earnhardt forth and Edwards fifth. Logano is sixth, Johnson seventh, Ryan Newman eighth, Greg Biffle ninth and Brian Vickers tenth.
“Nothing makes me more proud than when it's all on the line and you get the lead and you've got to hold off somebody like Harvick and you get it done,” Gordon said. “It might have been by inches, but we got it done because that's what builds momentum, that's what builds a great race team and turns you not only into a winning team, but hopefully a championship team.”
Next up is the non-points NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway next Saturday night followed by the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday May 25th in Charlotte.