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Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt finish in top 14 at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – While Victory Lane was just out of reach for Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, the duo used solid top-10 finishes to improve their positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver standings. Johnson finished fourth, while Gordon took eighth. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne finished 14th and 34th, respectively.

Johnson opened Sunday’s 312-mile event from the fourth position and spent most of the day running among the leaders. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet was running second by Lap 49 and claimed the lead 11 laps later after his team made an efficient stop under caution. With four fresh tires and fuel, Johnson paced the field. He ultimately led four times for 55 laps before encountered a loose-handling condition during the race. But once the No. 48 team addressed the issue, Johnson was able to return among the leaders and pick up the fourth-place result. With the top-five finish, Johnson gained 11 spots in the driver standings and he ranks 37th.

“I’m very proud of the effort,” Johnson said. “We had a very fast Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet. Unfortunately we had a little hiccup on pit road and it kept us from really racing for the win, but we still fought back and got into it. So I’m very proud of the effort and very proud of our race team.”

Gordon rallied quickly in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet on Sunday. Within the first 50 laps, he improved from his 30th starting spot to run eighth. Gordon held his position inside the top 15 for the majority of the race and crossed the finish line eighth to pick up his first top-10 result of the season. Gordon improved 13 spots in the driver standings and now is ranked 22nd.

“It was a solid day for us,” Gordon said. “I was very happy with some of the calls that we made to get track position. There at the end our car just wouldn’t take off, so we really struggled being real loose getting into the corner.  Once it came to us we were pretty good.  There was a middle part of the race where I thought we were one of the better cars.  It just didn’t work out that way at the end. All in all, we were solid. We needed a solid day like this after last week.”

Earnhardt, who started the race 30th, ran inside the top 10 before sustaining damage to his No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet. His pit crew addressed the issue to the left-front corner, but Earnhardt slipped through the field some. As the race wound down, Earnhardt posted lap times that rivaled those of competitors inside the top 10. But navigating traffic on the one-mile oval was tricky and Earnhardt improved to finish 14th. He is ranked fifth in the driver standings.

Kahne opened his day from the 10th position and improved to take the runner-up position within the first 20 laps. But Kahne’s run was stalled on Lap 24 when his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet got loose and made contact with the wall on the right front side. Kahne reported to pit road, and his team spent some time addressing a broken suspension component. Kahne finished his day in the 34th position and now ranks 32nd in the driver standings.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next will compete at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Kobalt Tools 400 is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.

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