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Johnson wins at Kansas, Hendrick nears milestone

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jimmie Johnson won Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Kansas Speedway to improve to third in the driver standings and put Hendrick Motorsports within one victory of a major milestone.

The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet led a race-high 197 laps on his way to his 55th career Cup victory. With the win, Johnson ranks tied for eighth on the all-time list with Rusty Wallace. For Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson’s victory marked the 199th in the Sprint Cup Series. The organization ranks first in wins in the modern era and second all-time behind Petty Enterprises, which owns 268 victories.

Johnson lined up 19th for Sunday’s 267-lap event and took the lead shortly after the first caution-flag period on Lap 21. During the stop, Johnson took right-side tires and improved his position to pace the field. After a 20-lap segment, Johnson slipped to third, but maintained his presence in the top five.  As the race unfolded, he stayed with the leaders, but had to survive several late-race restarts, including a final battle with Kasey Kahne. Johnson got a good restart and held off Kahne for the final lap to win.

“We’ve got a very strong group of guys, and we’ve been knocking on the door all year long,” said Johnson, who now has two wins this season and his first as he chases his sixth straight Cup championship. “We’ve gotten beaten some, and we’ve beaten ourselves. I’ve got to thank Lowe’s for their support and congratulate Mr. Hendrick on his 199th Cup win, as well as Chevy on winning the Manufacturer Cup. We did our part today, and we’ll just see if we can do it six more times.”

Johnson’s win is one of five that Hendrick Motorsports has contributed to the 14 that Chevrolet has recorded this season. This is the 35th season in which Chevy has won the Manufacturer’s Cup.

Mark Martin joined Johnson inside the top 10 after a day in which he worked with his team to finetune the handling of the No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. Martin lined up ninth, but struggled to find the right balance early for his No. 5 Chevy. He improved his running position early in the race thanks to pit strategy. He took two tires only during the second caution period on Lap 85, and he improved 13 spots after the pit stop to line up inside the top 10 with his teammates Johnson and Gordon. But handling remained an issue, and Martin worked with his team for the fix. He crossed the finish line 10th and ranks 17th in the standings.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove his No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet from his 18th starting position to run inside the top 10 within the first 100 laps of the race. Earnhardt, who ran inside the top 15, was 12th on Lap 263. When the field lined up for the green-white-checkered flag restart, Earnhardt held on for the 14th-place finish. He improves one spot in the driver standings to ninth with six races remaining in the postseason.

“We had a pretty tight car when the race started,” Earnhardt said. “And then there was a run in the middle of the race where I couldn’t have asked for the car to be any better. It was really fast. And near the end there we just had a lot of cautions and a lot of traffic and my car was real tight. In that dirty air, we just couldn’t get anything done. But I was better than we were last time here. We’ve just got to gain a little bit more on it. We’re getting there.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, lined up 10th and ran as high as second during Sunday’s race. Gordon led once for two laps and appeared poised for a solid top-five finish and a boost in the championship standings when engine issues arose. Gordon’s engine expired with just three laps remaining, setting up a green-white-checkered finish for the field. He was scored with a 34th-place finish and now ranks 10th in the standings.

“It was a sequence of crazy events for us,” Gordon said. “The day was going really well. I’m really proud of this team, and I’ve got to thank DuPont, Drive to End Hunger and all of our other partners on board. It was a heck of a performance for Quaker State motor oil today because I didn’t think it would last as long as it did. I knew it was just a matter of time, but to last that long is pretty amazing. On the restart, Tony Stewart took me three-wide down the apron and we were on old tires, and that ruined out day right there. But he had to do what he had to do. It messed us up, but right after that we started to get smoke. We thought it was tire smoke, but it wasn’t. It was under the hood, and that obviously ended our day.”

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