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Talladega recap: Hendrick trio in top 11

TALLADEGA, Ala. (Oct. 31, 2010) – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin finished inside the top 11 in Sunday’s AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, while their teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 24 laps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.

The Hendrick Motorsports drivers went into the 500-mile affair with varying strategies, and each led at least one lap as the race unfolded. Earnhardt, who started sixth in his No. 88 Legends of Hallowdega AMP Energy Juice/National Guard Chevrolet, immediately pursued the top spot, while his teammates decided to hang back. Gordon, Johnson and Martin decided to save their cars and patiently make their way around the racetrack as the event continued.

Earnhardt was rewarded for his aggressive move, and he captured the lead on Lap 3. On Lap 134, Earnhardt was involved in a three-car incident in Turn 4. The driver of the No. 88 Chevy was running along in the middle of the pack when he made contact with the No. 33 of Jeff Burton while bumpdrafting. The contact did not end Earnhardt’s day, but the five-time Talladega winner no longer was a factor as the race wound down. He finished 39th after leading six times for a race-high 24 laps.

“I got in the back of (Jeff) Burton and got him out of control,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve just been pushing each other all day long, and I got into him the wrong way. I saw him in the Infield Care Center, and he’s all right. But I had a real good car and awesome engine and just kinda having fun out there running around seeing what you can do, and got a little too excited and ended early.”

With 13 laps to go, Gordon and Johnson teamed up and the duo charged through the field. They moved from the middle of the pack into the first and second spots within one lap of the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Gordon led a lap, but sustained an engine issue that affected his No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Chevrolet and he was forced to drop out of the draft.  Johnson led two laps and held steady in the top five until the caution flag was issued on Lap 181. During the restart, Johnson lost drafting help and was shuffled through the field. Johnson crossed the finish line seventh, just ahead of Gordon, who was scored eighth.

“We felt like we had a shot to win the race today,” said Johnson, who maintains his lead in the championship standings. “We did a good job today. We played our strategy out right. We got into the lead with four or five (laps) to go; maybe a touch to early, but I had a good shot at it. The No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) thought he had an engine failing and got out of the way because at that point I didn’t have any teammates in front, and it just really didn’t work out for me. But it was still a great finish, and we’ll take it.”

“There is just a lot of crazy stuff that goes on here,” said Gordon, who trails teammate Johnson in the standings by 207 points in fourth place. “I’m just happy to have a car that finished in one piece to be honest with you. We haven’t had that for a long time.

“Me and Jimmie got hooked up together and drove all the way to the front. I started experiencing some weird things inside the car. It was kind of vibrating. There was a lot of smoke and it smelled like oil. I thought the engine was getting ready to blow up so he shuffled me out. From that point on, we just kind of fought back. From that restart, I just couldn’t get anybody to go with us. But we still held our own.”

Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, made several charges to the front of the field and led twice for two laps. As the laps ticked down, Martin climbed from his top-15 running position and avoided a late-race multi-car crash on the frontstretch to finish 11th.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next travels to Texas Motor Speedway. Each of the Hendrick drivers has won at the 1.5-mile speedway.

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