Michigan recap: Gordon, Earnhardt finish in top three in fuel-mileage event
BROOKLYN, Mich. (Aug. 16, 2009) – Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top three during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, which featured strong performances by each of Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers.
Gordon climbed from his 21st starting spot to finish second, while Earnhardt charged hard during the closing laps of the race and finished third. Victims of a fuel-mileage gamble, Mark Martin finished 31st and Jimmie Johnson crossed the line 33rd. Rookie Brad Keselowski finished 24th in his fifth Cup start of the season for Hendrick Motorsports.
Martin opened Sunday’s 400-mile event from the outside pole position and immediately led the first 23 laps before Johnson took over. The duo combined to lead the field for the most laps during the 200-lap event with Johnson leading a race-high 133 and Martin pacing the field for 26 in the No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet.
But the fuel mileage gamble cost both drivers, despite their strong Chevrolets, and Sunday’s race was like déjà vu for Johnson, who ran out of fuel while leading at the end.
“We did all that we could,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. “I did all I could inside the car and really felt like if the No. 83 could make it, we could make it. Unfortunately we didn’t. This car makes a lot of horsepower, and I’ve got to thank the engine shop for that. Days like today where a fuel mileage race really isn’t our specialty, we took a gamble because of where we were in the points. I’ve just got to thank this crew for working so hard.”
Gordon started in 21st and steadily climbed toward the front of the field, taking the lead by Lap 43. Gordon stayed inside the top 10 and was running third when Johnson ran out of fuel. Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, continued to chase new leader Brian Vickers in the No. 83.
“I really thought we were going to win that race,” Gordon said. “I mean right there at the end I did. I really thought the No. 83 was going to run out after the No. 48 ran out, but he didn’t. We will take another second place here at Michigan. Great effort by the DuPont Chevrolet team.”
Earnhardt started 15th and used pit strategy to improve his position during Sunday’s race. He took advantage of a caution on Lap 158 to refuel his No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet and overwhelmed the competition on the restart. Earnhardt continued his drive toward the front, but ran out of time and crossed the start-finish line in third.
“I’m real proud of my team,” Earnhardt said. “They did a good job on pit road. Lance (McGrew, crew chief) made some good calls and it got the car driving really good at the end. I’m real proud of my team. I want to thank those guys and give them all the credit. They worked really hard all weekend and gave us a good car.”