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Gordon scores sixth amidst Daytona fireworks

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Teamwork yet again was the theme for Hendrick Motorsports as the organization attempted to collect its second straight superspeedway victory of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, this time at Daytona International Speedway.

Saturday’s Cup event at Daytona opened in similar fashion to the team’s success on April 17 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. At Talladega, the Hendrick teammates lined up inside the top four and went on to finish inside the top eight. Jimmie Johnson was the winner that day, thanks to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who gave him a push in the final laps.

On Saturday, the Hendrick teammates again were sitting in good position. Mark Martin opened the race from the pole position, while his teammates rounded out the top eight. Within the first 25 laps, Martin, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon combined to lead 17 laps. When the second caution period occurred on Lap 24, the Hendrick teammates opted to slip through the field where they could ride around patiently as the race unfolded. During this time, the crew chiefs and drivers worked out their strategy for the final push.

In a move reminiscent of the April 17 Cup event at Talladega, the Hendrick teammates began their strike with fewer than 30 laps remaining in the race. Drafting partners Martin and Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt pitted for fresh tires, adjustments and fuel for the final charge. Each tandem set was ready for the late-race charge when they returned to the field.

With 10 laps left on the board, the Hendrick quartet went for it. Steadily they rallied their way around the track. On Lap 152, Gordon and Martin made a move for the bottom that improved their position into the top 14. One lap later, they were running inside the top 12. The tandem pair continually ticked through positions on the racetrack with each closing lap.

On Lap 157, Gordon and Martin moved to the outside and picked up ground to improve to the seventh and eighth positions, respectively. The duo continually battled their way through the field and was going three-wide into the corner when an incident unfolded. Contact with another competitor in Turn 4 sent Gordon spinning down the racetrack and jumbled up the field. Gordon’s crew repaired the No. 24 Pepsi MAX Chevrolet, and he returned to the track, where he eventually picked up the sixth-place finish.

After the caution period, the field reset for its first attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish. Once the green flag was dropped, the field raced into action. Martin was running 10th at the time and was collected in a multi-car incident in Turn 1. Fifteen cars were involved in the accident that set up the field for a second attempt at a green-white checker.

This time, Earnhardt was running 11th. He improved to fourth, but couldn’t hold on when another 15-car wreck occurred in the tri-oval coming to the checkered flag. Earnhardt was collected along with Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Summer Salute Chevrolet. Earnhardt was scored 19th, and Johnson was given the 20th-place finish. Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, was credited with the 33rd-place finish.

After the race, Johnson ranks sixth in the driver standings, Earnhardt is seventh, Gordon is eighth and Martin is 18th.

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