After finishing 35th at Chicagoland thanks to a partially stuck throttle and a subsequent collision with the turn one wall, Jeff Gordon has done what he needed to do to get back into Chase contention at New Hampshire and Dover with finishes of third and second. Right?
Well, not really. Yes, Gordon needed to rip off a flurry of top five finishes at the minimum to get back into Chase contention. And he's doing that. There's just been one problem: he's finished behind the points leader in both of those races.
On Sunday at Dover, Gordon ran on the tail-end of the lead lap most of the afternoon. But thanks to the craziness that was the lap scoring during Sunday's race, that wasn't a bad thing. As the field was in the midst of the first cycle of green flag pit stops 70 laps into the race, the caution flag came out thanks to a blown tire and shredded sheetmetal from J.J. Yeley's car. That meant that when the race went back to green -- and after 23 cars had taken the wavearound to get one lap back -- just eight cars were on the lead lap.
The division in the field stayed that way throughout the entire race (10 cars finished on the lead lap and no cars finished one lap down), so Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson had nothing to lose when they topped off under caution after Matt Kenseth's spin on lap 316 while the rest of the field stayed out.
That meant that Gordon was able to drive through the field as the cars ahead of him either slowed to conserve fuel or pitted to replenish their supply all the way up to second behind Brad Keselowski as the checkered flag flew.
But, alas, with the win, Keselowski became the new points leader. And Gordon, now 10th in the points standings, is 48 points back, or one point further back than he was when he left Chicagoland. So for as good as Gordon has been over the past two weeks, he's basically treading water, which is only serving to lessen his Chase hopes.
Who's up? This is a tough one given Keselowski's emergence in victory lane and atop the points standings, but we'll give this to Denny Hamlin despite his late pit stop for fuel that relegated him to an 8th place finish. Yes, he lost 11 points to the points lead, but he led laps and spent most of the day in the top three at his weakest Chase track. It may not be a victory in the points standings, but it has to be one in the confidence department.
Who's down? Yikes, this could be a lot of drivers, but we'll give this one to Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne, who lost 22 and 17 points to the points lead, respectively. Both were caught two laps down in the green flag stop cycle, and Stewart never got close to getting back on the lead lap. Kahne eventually got the Lucky Dog to get back on the lead lap, but had to make an unscheduled stop for a front tire problem with 40 laps to go. With the way that the race played out, it might have worked out well enough for Kahne that he could have scored a top 10 finish, but he had to come back down pit road for a loose lugnut and ended up three laps down in 15th.
Who's out? Goodbye Matt Kenseth, thanks for playing. After a broken trackbar to cause one caution and a spin to cause another, Kenseth is now last in the Chase and 71 points behind Keselowski. How will his last seven races at Roush Fenway play out? Next up on the list is Greg Biffle, Kenseth's Roush teammate. But we'll give him another week.
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