Hendrick Motorsports trio qualifies in top 11 at Atlanta
HAMPTON, Ga. – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne qualified inside the top 11 during Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session at Atlanta Motor Speedway, while their Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 35.
Sunday’s 325-lap race will be broadcast on television (6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) and radio (6:30 p.m. ET on PRN) Check local listings.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet
At Atlanta: In 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kahne has two wins, six top-five finishes and eight top-10s. The driver of the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet also has two pole positions at the 1.54-mile oval and started from the top spot one year ago. Atlanta ranks as Kahne’s second-best track in career wins. He ranks 10th in the driver rating category at the intermediate track with a score of 91.0 and has turned 230 of the fastest laps at Atlanta, tying him for fifth among active drivers. Fans have a chance to win a 2012 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport for one year from Hendrickcars.com by correctly guessing Kahne’s average speed on Lap 163 during Sunday’s Cup event.
Most recently: Kahne opened last weekend’s 500-lap race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway from 12th, and improved to take the lead on Lap 108. He led 41 laps before the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet slipped in oil on the track from an incident that caused the fourth of 13 cautions at Bristol. Repairs to the Chevrolet caused Kahne to drop to 33rd, but he continued to climb through the field and was able recover to finish ninth. He now ranks 11th in the driver standings and is a Chase Wild Card contender with two wins.
Kahne says: “Atlanta is my favorite track on the circuit. It’s wide and fast, so we can race a lot of different lines. We have a good history here, and I expect a good weekend with a Hendrick Motorsports car under me.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
At Atlanta: In 38 starts at Atlanta, Gordon has earned five victories, 15 top five-finishes, 24 top-10s and two pole positions. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet has led 1, 274 laps at the 1.54-mile Georgia track. Gordon follows teammate Johnson for the second-best driver rating at Atlanta (104.1) and for laps run in the top-15 (3,439) in the last 13 races at the intermediate track. Gordon enters this weekend as the defending race winner, leading 146 laps en route to Victory Lane last September.
Most recently: Gordon continued his progress toward a Chase wild card spot with his performance at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet wasted no time at the .533-mile track, cracking the top-10 within the first five laps of the 500 lap event. Despite reporting a tight No. 24 Chevrolet, Gordon maintained his hold in the top 10 and ran as high as second at the short track before ultimately finishing third. It marked his fifth top-five finish of the season. He now ranks 15th in the driver standings and continues to battle for a spot in the Chase.
Gordon says: “I think one of the reasons so many drivers and teams love this place is the track has a lot of grip, a lot of banking and it is a very fast racetrack - especially when looking at the qualifying speeds. It’s very fast during the race but it has a lot of fall off, so tire wear is significant and the balance of the car changes throughout a run.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet
At Atlanta: In 20 starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Johnson has three wins, 11 top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. Johnson owns NASCAR’s best driver rating at the intermediate track with a score of 109.5. According to loop data for the past 13 races at Atlanta, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet has the best average green-flag speed among active drivers (171.979 mph) and ranks first for laps run in the top 15 (3,775). Johnson most recently visited Victory Lane at Atlanta in 2007 when he swept the March and October races.
Most recently: Johnson continued his strong season, earning his 12th top-five finish of the season during the Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet climbed from 37th-place starting position to take over the lead after the halfway point of the 500-lap race. Johnson held off teammate Gordon to lead 51 laps total at the short track. He ultimately finished second, locking a spot in the Chase for the ninth time and now ranks second in the driver standings.
Johnson says: “Probably the most memorable win (at Atlanta), must have been 2004. The plane crash was the weekend before in Martinsville. Then we came to the racetrack about as low as you can be emotionally. I ran second and third most of the day and, on the last run, found a way by Mark Martin, who was driving the wheels off his car. I don’t think I have ever driven a racecar that hard. I got by him late in the race and was able to hold him off to win. A very emotional day, not only for me, but for all of Hendrick Motorsports and, more importantly, for Rick and Linda (Hendrick) and the families involved to give them something positive in just the worst week ever.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet
At Atlanta: In 24 Cup starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has one win, two pole positions, eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. Earnhardt’s two pole positions at Atlanta tie his personal best at a track. He holds the same number at Michigan International Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. According to NASCAR loop data, Earnhardt ranks eighth in the driver rating category at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a score of 94.3. Earnhardt ranks eighth among drivers for laps run in the top 15 during the last 13 races at Atlanta. He has spent 66.4 percent of all laps (2,820 total) in the top 15 per NASCAR’s loop statistics.
Most recently: Earnhardt overcame pit road penalties to hold on for a 12-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday, clinching a spot in the Chase. Despite a pit road speeding penalty early in the race, he recovered to take the lead on Lap 200 and continued to pace the field for 12 laps. Earnhardt was hit with another pit road penalty in the last 150 laps of the 500-lap event, but recovered to ultimately finish 12th. He now ranks third in the driver standings.
Earnhardt says: “I really like racing at Atlanta. It’s a fun racetrack; it’s incredibly fast, and we’ve run well there. The track is wide so you can find a groove that works for you. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do down there.”