Jeff Gordon led for 94 laps and took first place in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, moving up two spots to fifth in the Sprint Cup Series standings.
Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five, and all of them are legitimate threats to win the entire competition.
There are plenty of positives to take away from Dover, but it was also an elimination day for four of these elite drivers. A.J. Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola have all been eliminated from Sprint Cup competition as we head into the Contender Round, which kicks off with the Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway on Oct. 5.
Take a look at the NASCAR grid and the remaining Sprint Cup schedule after Gordon's vital win in Dover.
|2014 Sprint Cup Series Remaining Schedule|
|Sprint Cup Contender Round||Time (ET)|
|Oct. 5||2 p.m.||Hollywood Casino 400||Kansas Speedway|
|Oct. 11||7:30 p.m.||Bank of America 500||Charlotte Motor Speedway|
|Oct. 19||2 p.m.||Geico 500||Talladega Speedway|
|Sprint Cup Eliminator Round|
|Oct. 26||1:30 p.m.||Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500||Martinsville Speedway|
|Nov. 2||3 p.m.||AAA Texas 500||Texas Motor Speedway|
|Nov. 9||3 p.m.||Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500||Phoenix International Raceway|
|Sprint Cup Championship|
|Nov. 16||3 p.m.||Ford Ecoboost 400||Homestead-Miami Speedway|
|2014 Sprint Cup Series Standings|
|10||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||3000||3|
|NASCAR.com, *eliminated from competition|
Gordon may have won the race, but he wasn't really the best driver out on the track. Kevin Harvick led the race for a staggering 223 laps, but the faulty mechanics of his car trumped his indomitable spirit.
NASCAR's My Cup Nation Twitter account captured his left front tire sparking midway through the race:
Gordon called him the class of the field, per ESPN's Marty Smith:
As USA Today's Jeff Gluck pointed out, the race essentially belonged to Harvick at the halfway point:
Harvick finished in a disappointing 13th place, but is still one of the top threats moving forward. If he and his team can avoid any major car issues going forward, Harvick will definitely put pressure on the likes of Gordon, Logano and Keselowski.
Gordon's win was the 92nd of his long and storied career. According to Smith, Gordon sent a message to the rest of the field with this victory:
However, it will be tough to overcome the ultra-consistent performances of Keselowski. He led the AAA 400 for 74 laps and has five wins and 13 top-five performances on the season. Keselowski battled Gordon and kept pressure on him throughout the latter half of the race. His determination and aggressive driving makes him a huge favorite moving forward.
As noted in that tweet, Kahne is still in the Chase, but he will need to improve his performances rapidly if he is to make a move up the standings. He finished in 20th place at Dover, just one spot ahead of Biffle and three ahead of Allmendinger. Kahne doesn't have a win as of yet, so don't expect him to play spoiler at any point in the remaining schedule.
Johnson's third-place finish sets him up for a run at his seventh Sprint Cup Championship, but the rivalry with Keselowski is still very much in play. The latter has been the more impressive driver on the season, bouncing back from a relatively disappointing 2013 campaign. He looks to be in the same kind of smooth, confident form that won him this competition in 2012.
Gordon certainly can't be counted out after this win. With so much talent jockeying for position at the top of the heap, it's safe to say the fans will no doubt be among the winners with all of the exciting action set to come in the next seven races.