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Hendrick trio to start in top 14 at Fontana

FONTANA, Calif. – Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned starting spots inside the top 14 during Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Auto Club Speedway. Jeff Gordon recorded the 21st starting position.

In 22 Sprint Cup events (86 starts) at Fontana, Hendrick Motorsports has nine wins, 29 top-five finishes, 40 top-10s and six pole positions. Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet, has the most wins at the two-mile oval (five), followed by Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, with three.

Sunday’s race will be broadcast on television (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX) and radio (2 p.m. on MRN). Check local listings.

Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet
Qualified: Fifth.
At Fontana: In 15 Cup starts at Fontana, Kahne has recorded one win, four top-five finishes and nine top-10s.  He lined up from the pole position in 2004 for his first Cup start at the two-mile track and has gone on to earn eight more top-10 starting spots. Kahne, who will drive the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet this weekend, enters Sunday’s race with back-to-back top-10 finishes and an average finish of 14.9 at the two-mile track.
Most recently: Kahne had a strong qualifying run at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last weekend, starting 10th at the .533-mile track. He was involved in a multi-car pileup early in the race, but was able to return to the track and finish 37th. Kahne now ranks 32nd in the driver standings.
Kahne says: “I’m excited to get back to an intermediate track.  Our Chevy was so good in Las Vegas, and I think we’ll be fast again this weekend.  Kenny (Francis, crew chief) and the guys are unloading great cars every week. If we get some luck to fall our way, we can bounce back from these first few races.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Qualified: 21st.
At Fontana: In 22 Cup starts at the two-mile track, Gordon has three wins, including the inaugural event at the track in 1997. Gordon has a driver rating of 97.9, which ranks him seventh among active drivers in that category at the two-mile track. In addition to his three wins, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet has earned 10 top-five finishes, 11 top-10s and two pole positions.
Most recently: Gordon started fourth at Bristol last weekend and was gunning for his second top-10 finish of the season when an incident occurred on Lap 363. Gordon was battling for fifth with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. after a restart and the two made contact, cutting the left-rear tire of Gordon’s car. Gordon was able to return to the racetrack with less than 40 laps to go and finish 25th. He now ranks 23rd in the driver standings.
Gordon says: “We may only race here (at Fontana) once a year, but it doesn’t take long to get back in the rhythm. And I love that you can race high, low and everywhere in between here. That gives us the ability to search for a line that works. And I think the fans love the fact you’ll see three, four and sometimes five-wide racing here.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet
Qualified: 10th.
At Fontana: Johnson earned his first Cup win at the Fontana, Calif., track in 2002. The El Cajon, Calif., native has won five races at his home track, the most among all Cup drivers. In 2008, Johnson became the only driver to win from the pole. In addition to his five wins, he has 12 top-five finishes and 13 top-10s in 17 Cup starts at the two-mile oval.
Most recently: Johnson picked up his third top-10 finish of the season last weekend at Bristol when he was able to improve from a starting position of 22nd to finish ninth at the .533-mile track. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet now ranks 11th in the driver standings.
Johnson says: “I’ve been really successful at Auto Club Speedway. It’s my home track. We got our first Sprint Cup career win there in ’02, so it’s a special track to me. I definitely always see some friends and family while we are out there. I know we’ll go there and be very competitive this time.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/ National Guard Chevrolet
Qualified: 14th.
At Fontana: In 19 Cup starts at Fontana, Earnhardt has scored three top-five finishes, four top-10s and led 28 laps. He recorded a career-best runner-up finish at the two-mile racetrack in September 2006.
Most recently: Earnhardt lined up 18th last weekend at Bristol and climbed 13 spots within the first 85 laps to run fifth in the No. 88 Chevrolet. As the race unfolded, Earnhardt maintained his position inside the top 10 while his crew addressed a handling issue through various chassis adjustments. He finished 15th and now ranks sixth in the driver standings.
Earnhardt says: “I’m excited to get to California and see what we can do as a team. California is a track I need to run better at. It’s a flat track, and it doesn’t have a ton of grip. We’ve been running really strong as a team this year, and I expect more of the same.”

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