DOVER, Del. — Jeff Gordon doused Team Penske’s hot streak with a champagne bath in Victory Lane.
Sticky and sweet, Gordon had secured an emphatic automatic spot in the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
But Gordon’s entry in the field of 12 was all but guaranteed even before he dominated the closing laps Sunday at Dover International Speedway. What wasn’t so sure was that Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne was coming along for the ride.
Kahne survived a bumpy 400 miles, falling four laps back before rallying for a 20th-place finish to nab the 12th and final spot in the field.
“Kasey made it a pretty long day,” owner Rick Hendrick said. “We were watching the monitor at the end of the race hoping that we didn’t have a caution and Jeff could win it and Kasey could get in.”
NASCAR tried to inject its 10-race Chase format with a revamped formula for crowning a champion this season. Under NASCAR’s elimination format, four drivers will be knocked out after every third race. Dover marked the third race.
That meant plenty of nerves all around the track — and tons of scoreboard watching.
Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola were eliminated. Four more drivers will drop out following the next three-race segment that starts next week at Kansas Speedway.
Gordon joined Chase winners Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano as the three drivers who were guaranteed a berth in the next Chase round with victories.
“I think it makes a statement of what type of team we are,” Gordon said after his fourth win of the season and 92nd overall. “I think that it makes a statement that we’re a team to beat for this championship.”
Kevin Harvick also advanced, along with the Hendrick duo of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.