Five Lessons Learned: Dale Jr. Has Competitive Fire

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By Jared Turner

  1. Kevin Harvick Is Mr. Clutch

What can be said that hasn’t already been about the ability of Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team to get the job done when their backs are against the wall? Remember last year’s Chase-elimination race at Phoenix and the Championship Race at Homestead? Yeah, Harvick won both. In an all-too-familiar must-win scenario and facing elimination from this year’s Chase, Harvick went out at Dover and beat the field into submission with one of the most dominant performances of his lengthy career. Now, he’s arguably the odds-on favorite to walk away with the 2015 championship – which would make it two in a row in NASCAR’s top series for the driver from Bakersfield, California.

2. Joe Gibbs Racing Can Be Beaten

OK, so it was only one race, but apparently Joe Gibbs Racing is beatable, after all. Fresh off a perfect September when the company won all four of the Sprint Cup Series races run, JGR saw its hot streak come to an abrupt end with Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick’s win on Sunday in Delaware. What was most surprising wasn’t that a JGR driver didn’t win, however. It was that JGR actually failed to put two of its drivers – Carl Edwards (15th) and Denny Hamlin (18th) – in the top 10. Meanwhile, red-hot JGR driver Matt Kenseth finished a modest seventh. It should be noted, however, that the biggest threat to Harvick all race long happened to be a JGR driver – Kyle Busch, who came home a strong second.

3. Dale Jr. Can Step Up

Often accused of lacking the aggression and will to win so synonymous with his late father, seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went for broke at Dover – and it paid off. Headed for certain Chase elimination if he did not pass Jamie McMurray in the final laps, Earnhardt jumped to the outside of McMurray on a late restart and managed to get around the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver. Then, Earnhardt kept McMurray at bay over the final laps to finish third and edge McMurray for the final transfer spot on the basis of a tiebreaker. While Junior continues to be a championship longshot, he did what he had to do at Dover to advance and keep his title hopes alive.

4. The Drive For Five Remains Alive

Jeff Gordon’s final season in the Sprint Cup Series has been no thing of beauty, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver remains in the hunt for a long-awaited fifth championship heading into the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Needing to piece together a solid day at Dover to move on in the Chase, Gordon came home in 12th – not great but good enough to advance. Now one of 12 remaining drivers with a shot at the title, Gordon starts the next round on equal footing with his fellow Chase drivers. Although it’s unlikely that he will go any further in the Chase, based on his season to date, he at least has an opportunity to keep going.

5. Jimmie Johnson Is Suddenly Mr. Unlucky

After seemingly having a golden horseshoe for the majority of his Sprint Cup Series career, Jimmie Johnson experienced the other end of the luck spectrum on Sunday at Dover, a track where he is the sport’s all-time wins leader with 10 victories and was an overwhelming favorite to move on to the next round of the Chase. But instead of celebrating another win at the “Monster Mile,” Johnson finished 41st – the result of a broken rear axle on his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. And as a result of finishing so poorly, the six-time champion left Dover not among the 12 drivers advancing to the next round of the Chase. For a driver with four wins in 2015, it was certainly a disappointing way to conclude his bid for a record-tying seventh championship.

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