Bristol recap: Three Hendrick drivers in top 10
BRISTOL, Tenn. (Aug. 22, 2009) – Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all scored top-10 finishes during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Martin, who was making his 1,000th career NASCAR start, battled hard with eventual winner Kyle Busch during the final 68 laps and crossed the finish line second in his No. 5 Pop-Tarts/CARQUEST Chevrolet. Martin led a race-high 240 laps and improved 48 points in the driver standings. He now ranks 10th with two races remaining for the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I had a good time tonight,” said Martin, who started from the pole position for the fourth time this season and ninth time at the short track. “I had a really great race car. I felt that that was a great battle right there at the end with Kyle. He didn’t even attempt to pinch me, crowd me or anything else. He gave me more than enough racing room to pull it off, and I just couldn’t get it done on the bottom that quick. We weren’t that much better. We were just pretty equal. I got a good handful of wheel and managed to get beside him and get the fans on their feet.”
Johnson lined up 21st in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet and climbed to the front within the first 30 laps of the race. Johnson led three times for 107 laps and was the frontrunner with less than 100 laps to go, when NASCAR issued a caution flag for rain. Johnson’s team made a pit stop for four tires and fuel. After the stop, an issue arose with the right rear tire, and the team needed another stop to make the correction. The delay buried Johnson in the field once again, but the three-time defending Cup champion worked his way through traffic and left with an eighth-place finish.
“We were the fastest car out there,” Johnson said. “We should be in Victory Lane. It’s just a bummer we had something on pit road screw us up. Just really disappointed.”
Earnhardt started 27th in his specially-painted No. 88 AMP Energy Sugar Free/National Guard Chevrolet and was running in the top 10 by Lap 150 of Saturday night’s race. However, Earnhardt’s Chevy suffered an issue mid-race that the No. 88 team worked to correct. Earnhardt dropped back to 26th on Lap 200, but was running in the top 10 again on Lap 400. He finished ninth.
“It was a good finish for us,” Earnhardt said. “The car was working good in practice and when the race started we had some work to do. We made it better. I’m real proud of my team. My guys worked really hard. They had some awesome pit stops, and we just had a pretty decent car.”
Jeff Gordon rallied from a sour starting spot – 33rd in his case – to run in the top 10. Gordon put his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet in eighth by Lap 200, but noted a loose-handling condition after an adjustment on pit road. Gordon held on to finish 23rd.
“We were making ground,” Gordon said. “We weren’t the best car, but we were going forward and got inside the top-10. I don’t know—one adjustment maybe too many. We just got real, real loose. It wasn’t a big adjustment. It was just ridiculously loose, and we just hung on until the caution came out. Fought back from that point on, and after that we were okay. We were never great. I don’t know it felt like something was wrong with the car after that. It just never was the same. It was really good the first third of the race.”