Jeff Gordon stole the hotly contested checkered flag Sunday at the Pure Michigan 400 a mere days after setting a track record en route to the pole position.
Gordon led 68 laps in his first win at Michigan International Speedway since June 10, 2001. NASCAR's Twitter account captured the special moment:
Behind Gordon sat Kevin Harvick, who led no laps on the day but made a serious late surge, which would have produced a befitting end to an unpredictable affair. In third was last year's winner, Joey Logano.
The impact of the epic race that provided a wealth of lead changes is massive, to say the least:
Five more clinch their spots. If Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Almirola, Kurt Busch and Allmendinger start next 3 races, they make the Chase. #NASCAR— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 17, 2014
Here is a look at the top 10 finishers from Sunday's action:
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||4|
Full results can be found at NASCAR.com.
Below is a look at the updated standings before the season heads to Bristol, Tennessee, for the 2014 Irwin Tools Night Race.
2014 Sprint Cup Series Driver Standings
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||813|
2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Grid
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||813||3||11||16|
Analyzing Notable Finishers
Expectations for Gordon were high entering Sunday, to say the least.
He not only won the pole, but he also set the record at the track with a speed of 206.558 mph in the process, good for pole No. 76 of his career in the Sprint Cup Series. Gordon remained humble after the triumph, though, citing the pavement and technological advances as the reason for the record.
"I don't know where to start," Gordon said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "You can point at the repaving of the racetrack. This track is smooth—has a tremendous amount of surface area where the tire can get a lot of grip to it. The next thing is the cars."
On Sunday, seeking his third win of the year and his eighth top-five finish, Gordon was all over the place in regards to contention—until it mattered most.
He took the top spot with about 10 laps to go and never looked back. He did not lead the most laps of any competitor on the day—that honor went to his rival, Logano—but his clutch performance for win No. 3 on the season is the highlight of his campaign so far.
The defending champion came this close.
Logano stole the lead early and went on to lead 86 laps, but the course conducive to lead changes made sure his path to the final lap was no sure thing. In fact, he surrendered the top spot to Gordon with less than 10 laps to go.
Scott Johnson of theScore put it best:
Jeff Gordon just made Joey Logano his son on that restart.— Scott Johnson (@_scottjohnson) August 17, 2014
He entered the day fifth in points and already in possession of a spot in the Chase, but Logano would have surely loved to pick up his third win of the season. Instead, he has to settle for his fourth top-10 finish in a row.
It was easy to see coming into Sunday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would make a serious push for the top slot.
After all, his run this year has been one worthy of the "renaissance" label, as ESPN Stats & Info helps to explain:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is once again atop the standings, the fifth time he’s paced the field in the standings this season. By comparison, in over 300 starts between 2005 and 2013, Junior had the points lead just three times. That seems like a distant memory as Earnhardt Jr.’s three wins this season are tied for the lead, while his 10 top-five finishes are the most in the series.
He was near the top of the leaderboard for most of the day, even after a mix-up with Kyle Larson that necessitated repairs, as Fox Sports illustrates:
The encounter did little to deter Junior, though, as he led four laps by day's end and was consistently in contention before he wound up in fifth. More than 39 points would have been ideal, but Earnhardt at the very least kept his impressive momentum alive in the face of much adversity.
That is all she wrote for one of NASCAR's hottest names.
Rookie Kyle Larson, owner of 11 top-10 finishes this season and sitting in 10th place in the points standings entering Sunday, saw his chances at securing a spot in the Chase go up in flames.
ESPN illustrated the moment on Twitter:
Larson hard into the wall. He's dropped the window net and the car is on fire. He's out of the car on his own. Tough blow to Chase hopes.— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) August 17, 2014
"It's a shame," Larson said, per NASCAR.com. "We were up there in the points battle and we'll just have to work even harder now on our Target Chevy to make the Chase. It sucks."
He also elaborated that he had no choice but to exit the car a mere days removed from NASCAR implementing a new rule concerning such an action.
"There was a little bit of a hesitation (to get out of the car), but I had smoke in the cockpit," Larson said. "I let my crew know I was going to get out. I don't know if NASCAR listens to that stuff. Once I got out, I just stayed as close as I could to the car. But I had to get out with all the smoke in there."
Larson and the rest of the field now turn their attention to the Irwin Tools Night Race, a race that saw Matt Kenseth emerge victorious a year ago.
The spectacle at Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the most difficult tickets to obtain in the sporting world, so fans who want to witness one of the season's top events better set aside time to catch the annual 500-lap thriller.
2014 NASCAR Schedule Pure Michigan 400
|Saturday, August 23||7:30 p.m. ET||Irwin Tools Night Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 31||7:30 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series August Atlanta Race||ESPN|
|Saturday, September 6||7:30 p.m. ET||Federated Auto Parts 400||ABC|
|Sunday, September 14||2 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September Chicagoland Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 21||2 p.m. ET||Sylvania 300||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 28||2 p.m. ET||AAA 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 5||2 p.m. ET||Hollywood Casino 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, October 11||7:30 p.m. ET||Bank of America 500||ABC|
|Sunday, October 19||2 p.m. ET||Geico 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 26||1:30 p.m. ET||Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 2||3 p.m. ET||AAA Texas 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 9||3 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500||ESPN|
All statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.