Kansas City, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - Even though he is the current points leader, Jeff Gordon all but assured himself of making this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship by winning Saturday night's 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway.
At age 42, Gordon claimed his 89th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series after holding off pole sitter Kevin Harvick in the closing laps. The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and four-time series champion became the ninth different winner in the first 11 races this season.
"This is so sweet," Gordon said. "What a huge weight lifted off of this team's shoulders. We've been leading in points, but we needed to get to victory lane."
Gordon prevailed during a late-race round of pit stops under green when he was the quickest off of pit road. Harvick had led the way before the round began with less than 35 laps to go. Gordon grabbed the lead with eight laps left when Brad Keselowski gave up the top position to make his stop.
Harvick was a half-second behind Gordon when he took the lead. Harvick then gained on Gordon during the final few laps but came up just 0.112 seconds short at the finish line.
"The car was really fast, but we just had to overcome a lot tonight, getting caught on pit road both times under green flag pit stops," said Harvick, who led a race-high 119 laps. "There at the end, I ran out of gas coming to pit road. I was looking at the fuel pressure gauge instead of the tach and lost a bunch of time down pit road and off of pit road. I wound up getting stuck behind the 24 [Gordon]."
Gordon's most recent victory came last October at Martinsville (14 races ago). He is a three-time winner at Kansas, which is more than any other driver. Gordon won the first two races at this 1.5-mile oval from 2001-02.
"We've been bringing fast race cars every single weekend, and it's just given me so much confidence in the race cars and with the race team," said Gordon, who has now won at least one race in 19 different Cup Series seasons. "Kevin was tough. He was so strong. I did not know if I could hold him off, and I almost didn't there at the end."
"When I got caught in traffic, the car just got extremely loose on me, and he was just coming. Luckily, I was the one who took the checkered flag."
With the win, Gordon widened his points lead to 15 over Matt Kenseth, who finished 10th. Gordon's last championship in the series occurred in '01, prior to the Chase format. His first victory in a Cup race took place 20 years ago this month in the 600-mile event at Charlotte.
Harvick, who is in his first season as driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, was attempting to win his third race this year. He and Joey Logano are the only drivers with multiple victories in the series in 2014.
Kasey Kahne, who is Gordon's teammate, finished third, while Logano took the fourth spot. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fifth-place run gave Hendrick three of the top-five finishing positions. Carl Edwards was sixth.
Danica Patrick placed seventh, which marked her career-best finish in Sprint Cup. Patrick started ninth and ran among the top-10 for most of this 400-mile race. She had been running in the third spot with 85 laps to go.
"It felt good," Patrick said. "My goal at the beginning of the race was to stay up in that lead group. You're going to move up, and you're going to move down, but generally average out to where I was starting. I feel like we did all of that."
Patrick's previous best finish in the series was eighth, which occurred in the 2013 Daytona 500. She started on the pole for that race.
Aric Almirola finished eighth, while Jimmie Johnson, who is the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion as well as Gordon's teammate, placed ninth. Johnson is still seeking his first win of the season.
There were eight cautions in this race, including two for accidents where Jamie McMurray and David Gilliland's car erupted into flames after they hit the wall in separate incidents.
McMurray slammed hard into the barrier in turn 3 when it appeared that his right-front tire went down on lap 150. The back end of his Chevrolet was on fire when he drove it to the pits. McMurray quickly exited the car, as safety personnel extinguished the flames.
"I heard a pop and then just lost all the steering and got into the fence, which knocked the oil lines off and started the fire," McMurray said. "I'm not sure what it was. We didn't have any tire issues all weekend. I don't know if it was a bad tire or if I ran over something."
Gilliland was caught up in a six-car crash on the frontstretch on lap 187. A.J. Allmendinger triggered the accident when he spun out and collected several cars. The entire front end of Gilliland's vehicle was pushed in when he slammed head on into the wall. He got out of the car very gingerly but was later released from the track's infield medical care center.
"It was the hardest hit I've had in a long time," Gilliland said.