By Steve Mickey
Last week after the first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway, Kevin Harvick found himself on the bubble of moving on into the second round of the Chase. He was in the bottom four of the sixteen Chase drivers and had put himself in a position that he could not afford another finish outside of the top-10 in the final two races of the opening Round of 16, if he was to advance into the Round of 12.
He wasn’t one of the dominant cars in the early going of New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s Bad Boy Off Road 300 but in the closing laps he found himself in a position to run for the win after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson got together to bring out the final caution flag on lap 291 of the 300 lap event. Harvick started on the inside lane with Matt Kenseth set to start in the preferred outside lane.
NASCAR had warned Kenseth about his last restart being to slow so this time the Joe Gibbs Racing driver got on the gas as soon as he got inside the restart zone even though Harvick was only up to his door. The early restart gave Harvick the opportunity to get rolling through the gears without spinning which allowed him to get a great run going into turn one. He eventually made the pass with just six laps remaining and once he was in clean air, he began to pull away to his third victory of the season but more importantly he now automatically advances into the Round of 12.
Kenseth finished second and now sits fifth in the Chase standings, 26 points ahead of Kyle Larson who occupies the 12th position in the points which is the final transfer spot into the Round of 16. Brad Keselowski (+35) in third and Kyle Busch (+33) lead all the other drivers in the Chase point standings at this time and along with Kenseth are considered sure bets to advance to the next round.
CHASE NOTES: Jamie McMurray (-5), Austin Dillon (-5), Tony Stewart (-11) and Chris Buescher (-30) now find themselves as the four drivers on the outside looking in as they go to Dover. Just above the cutoff line in 12th is Kyle Larson who holds the slim 5 point lead over Jamie McMurray who follows him in the points in 13th. Kurt Busch (+15) in 11th and 10th place driver Kurt Busch and 9th place driver Chase Elliott have a 16 point cushion over McMurray.
DOVER FAVORITES: Jimmie Johnson might have already punched his ticket into the Chase if it had not been for a speeding penalty on pit road at Chicagoland. The six-time Sprint Cup champion finished 8th on Sunday and now finds himself in eighth place in the point standings going to Dover with an 18 point cushion above the cutoff line. He will be the one of the favorites at the all-concrete mile Monster Mile this weekend as he has ten wins in 29 trips to the track. He has a 9.6 finishing average and leads all drivers with a driver rating of 118.1. Although they have limited appearances at the track, Rookie Chase Elliott finished third in his only race at the track earlier this season and Kyle Larson has produced a finishing average of 6.2 in only five races.
DOVER WOES: Austin Dillon who has to have a great finish if he wants any chance of advancing to the Round of 12 will have to do it at a track where he has struggled in his six appearances. He is yet to post a top-10 and has compiled an average finish of 26.7. Tony Stewart who may have to have at least a top-five finish if he wants to continue his quest for his fourth title will have his work cut out for him as he has a 70.6 driver rating in 34 appearances at the track.
NASCAR: For the first time, all 16 Chase cars went through the post-race Laser Inspection Station (LIS) at New Hampshire and all 16 cleared. This new procedure came about after Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson failed the LIS at Chicagoland that led to a changing of the rules to keep from penalizing teams for minor infractions.
Event: Citizen Soldier 400
Track: Dover International Speedway (1.0-mile concrete oval, 24o of banking in the turns)
Date: Oct. 2, 2:00 pm
Defending Race Winner: Kevin Harvick