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Martin top finisher at Talladega, Johnson and Gordon improve Chase positions

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Hendrick Motorsports opened Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway on a promising note. All four of its drivers started the 188-lap event inside the top six, and each driver led a lap.

Mark Martin was the pole sitter for Sunday’s race, and he started alongside teammate Jimmie Johnson, marking the second time this season Hendrick Motorsports started from the front row at Talladega and the fourth straight time the organization has nabbed the top starting spot in a 2011 superspeedway event.

When the green flag dropped, Martin paired up with Jeff Gordon, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up with Johnson. By Lap 123, all four drivers had led at least one lap around the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

The tandem pairings patiently circled Talladega as the race unfolded, waiting for just the right moment to make their forward charge. The timing didn’t work in Hendrick Motorsports’ favor, though. On Lap 163, Johnson’s No. 48 myLowes Chevrolet suffered right-front damage after being involved in an incident in Turn 3. After the incident, Earnhardt and Johnson discussed their late-race strategy and decided to hover near the leaders so they could attempt their charge when the time was right.

However, another caution period roughly 10 laps later stalled the tandem’s attempt after Earnhardt thought he ran over debris from the incident in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Paint the 88/National Guard Chevrolet. He told his team he needed to pit during the yellow-flag period, so both he and Johnson made the stop. The teammates returned to the track unable to make any serious advancements during the closing laps. Earnhardt finished 25th and followed in 26th. Johnson improves to seventh in the championship standings, while Earnhardt remains ninth with four races left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Martin and Gordon made their latest forward charge with less than 10 laps to go. Martin drove his No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet to push Gordon back toward the top 10. The duo, which led a combined three laps during Sunday’s race, was running inside the top 12 when the five-car incident unraveled on Lap 181. Gordon managed to escape in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, but Martin was collected and required a trip to pit road for repairs. With his drafting partner off the track, Gordon struggled to find help. Martin managed to cross the finish line 20th, while Gordon finished 27th. Chase-contender Gordon improves one spot to 10th in the driver standings, and Martin now ranks 19th.

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