Gordon keeps Chase hopes alive with runner-up result at Atlanta
HAMPTON, Ga. – Jeff Gordon lined up on the second row behind Denny Hamlin for the green-white-checkered flag restart at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night. When the green flag was dropped, Gordon tracked Hamlin steadily around the 1.54-mile oval and appeared poised to steal the lead in the final lap with a strong run off of Turn 2. But the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet couldn’t complete the pass and took runner-up honors in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Gordon was joined in the top 10 by his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh). Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson finished 23rd and 34th, respectively.
Here are the results by team:
Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet:
Atlanta finish: 23rd.
Points ranking: 11th.
Race recap: Handling was a persistent issue for Kasey Kahne, who began Sunday night’s race from the 11th position. Kahne initially reported that his car was handling too tight and his splitter was hitting the ground. But as the race unfolded and Kahne slipped from as high as 10th to as deep as 25th, the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet shifted to the looser side. Crew chief Kenny Francis took several big swings at the issues throughout the race with major chassis and air pressure adjustments. Kahne slipped by a late-race incident that collected teammate Jimmie Johnson and persevered to finish 23rd. Kahne remains ranked 11th in the driver standings as he seeks a wild card spot in the upcoming Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Post-race thought: “I was looking forward to Atlanta (laughs). This is my favorite track and it didn’t work out very well. Richmond has been good at times. I think we ran pretty decent in the start of the year, maybe in the top 10 I think. It could be good. We’ll see.”—Kasey Kahne
Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet:
Atlanta finish: Second.
Points ranking: 13th.
Gearing up: Before the green flag even dropped, Jeff Gordon had a promising stat on his side. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet secured the fifth starting position; same as he had in 2011 when he went to Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway and secured his 85th NASCAR Sprint Cup career victory.
Race recap: Starting fifth, Gordon improved his running position to third by the fourth circuit of the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet took the lead six laps later and held on until his car developed a loose-handling condition. Crew chief Alan Gustafson and the No. 24 team planned changes as Gordon held on. Gordon was unable to tell initially if the changes helped because he returned to the track in traffic. He reported that his car was strong in clean air, but the traffic made it difficult for him to see any benefit. A late-race incident, which collected teammate Jimmie Johnson, scrambled the pack with fewer than 50 laps to go, and Gordon benefited from a seventh-place restart. The driver of the No. 24 Chevy navigated his way through the pack and took second with 33 laps left on the board. Turning laps as fast as a fuel-conscious and then-leading Martin Truex Jr., Gordon continued his quest for a second straight victory in this race at Atlanta when the caution flag was waved with five laps to go. He lined up on the second row for the final restart and took runner-up honors to catapult to 13th in the standings. Gordon is one of three drivers, including teammate Kahne, fighting a wild card spot in the upcoming Chase.
Post-race thought: “I would like to thank DuPont for commemorating 20 years that I have been in the sport and this place has been very special to me and it was very close to being special to me again tonight. Still a great effort by the team and I mean there were times tonight when we were 11th or 12th so just to have a shot to win, I am thankful for that, but I wish we could do it again.”—Jeff Gordon
Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet:
Atlanta finish: 34th.
Points ranking: Fourth.
Race recap: Johnson opened Sunday’s race from eighth and was running seventh by Lap 9. Early in the race, Johnson reported that his No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet was a bit free into Turns 1 and 2, which crew chief Chad Knaus and the team addressed during an ensuing stop. Throughout the race, Knaus encouraged Johnson to try a variety of lines, while the driver of the No. 48 Chevy consistently communicated the car’s handling. Johnson spent the majority of the race running in the top 10, and at Lap 242, Knaus predicted that the team had a No. 48 Chevy capable of a solid top five finish. Twenty-seven laps later, Johnson lined up for a restart and was collected in an incident shortly after the green flag was waved. The driver of the No. 48 Chevy hit pit road for fresh tires and repairs, but upon further review crew chief Chad Knaus instructed his drive to take the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt tools Chevrolet to the garage. Johnson was scored with a 34th-place result.
Post-race thought: “I think the No. 39 was on the outside the No. 22 was next to me; we just all converged at one spot. There is not a real good angle, all I know is I was riding down the road and left plenty of room on the outside of me and I got turned head on into the wall.
“Yeah, we just want to run good to. I think we had a top-five night going and unfortunately ended up with a torn up race car. We will be back next week and try again.”—Jimmie Johnson
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet:
Atlanta finish: Seventh.
Points ranking: Second.
Race recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the biggest mover on Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet started 35th and was running 23rd by the time the first caution flag waved on Lap 38. Crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team continually made adjustments to the handling of Earnhardt’s ride, and the team cracked the top 15 by Lap 45. Handling was an ongoing focus for the No. 88 team, which slipped off the lead lap during the race. Letarte used some pit strategy to put Earnhardt back on the lead lap when the caution flag was waved for the Lap 269 incident. Earnhardt maintained his position inside the top 10 for the remainder of the race and crossed the finish line seventh.
Post-race thought: “Steve Letarte (crew chief) is really experienced and did a lot of crafty stuff on the strategy to get us our laps back and get us back into position, and that’s about the only thing I think we can take away from that. This track, I don’t think is similar to anything else we run on. The surface is real slick. There’s not another surface like this. We don’t run this kind of set-up at most of the other 1.5-mile tracks; so I’m not too worried about how we ran. I’m disappointed and worried about next time we come back here, a year from now; but for the future and the rest of the season, I feel pretty good.”—Dale Earnhardt Jr.