Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon entered Saturday night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway as the Sprint Cup points leader, but was missing a notch in the all-important win column.
That all changed Saturday night as he and his Alan Gustafson-led team played their cards right to score his first win of the season.
"How’s that feel boys? To have that weight just lifted off of our shoulders?" Gordon radioed crew chief Gustafson and the rest of his team after the race.
Gordon’s win certainly wasn’t a lock as the winner as the race came to its end, as he had to hold off a last-lap charge from Kevin Harvick, who had the dominant car on the night.
Leading only nine laps in the race, Gordon got the advantage over Harvick on the final round of green flag pit stops. The four-time champion brought his car to pit road with 30 laps to go, while Harvick came in one lap later. The No. 24 crew got their driver back on track with a 13.4-second stop, compared to Harvick’s 13.7-second stop.
As the rest of the field peeled off for their final stops, Gordon and Harvick battled for what would be the lead. When Brad Keselowski came to pit road with eight laps to go, Gordon retook the lead and focused on holding off Harvick.
While he initially pulled away from the No. 4 Chevy, Harvick made a huge charge on the final lap to pull within 0.112 seconds at the flag. The run wasn’t enough, though, as Gordon scored his first win of the season.
"I knew we had a fast race car. We’ve been bringing fast race cars every single weekend. It’s just giving me confidence in the race cars and the race team," Gordon said. "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."
While Gordon entered the night as the points leader, the all-important win went a long way to ensuring a Chase berth for the No. 24 team.
"What a huge weight lifted off this team’s shoulders," he said. "We’ve been leading the points, but we needed to get to victory lane, and they proved they were capable of doing it. Great, great job by then."
Leading 121 of the 267 laps, Harvick’s hard-fought day ended with a disappointing second-place finish.
"In the end I ran out of gas coming to pit road. I was paying attention to that and didn’t get enough RPM down pit road," Harvick said. "Then I didn’t get out of my box very well. He wound up getting by me there as we came out of our pit stop."
Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10. Saturday night’s race saw 29 lead changes among 10 different drivers, and was slowed by cautions eight times for a total of 47 laps.
Next week, the series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Sprint All-Star Race.