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Johnson takes points lead; Hendrick quartet finishes in top 13 at Loudon

LOUDON, N.H. – Jimmie Johnson used a runner-up performance in Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to become the new points leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Johnson, a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, leads the standings by one point.

“This track here, we have a few wins, but we kind of average like a top 10,” Johnson said. “So to beat our average here is very important and helpful in the Chase. We’ve got to go to Dover (Del.) next weekend, and that’s a place I love.”
 
The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished second on Sunday in the second race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He lead his Hendrick Motorsports teammates—and fellow Chase contenders—who rounded out the top 13: Jeff Gordon (third), Kasey Kahne (fifth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (13th).

Here is the breakdown by team:

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet:
Finish: Fifth.
Chase position: Fifth.
Race recap: Kahne opened Sunday’s race from the sixth position and climbed to take second on Lap 71. Kahne led Lap 109 before entering pit road for his green-flag stop on the ensuing lap. After green-flag stops cycled through completely, Kahne was running fourth, ahead of teammates Jeff Gordon (fifth) and Jimmie Johnson (sixth). Nineteen laps later, Kahne took advantage of a yellow-flag pit stop, when caution was called on Lap 128 for debris. The two-tire change didn’t work in the No. 5 team’s favor and Kahne slipped from running inside the top five to running seventh. But within several circuits, the handling of Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy returned, and he was running fourth by Lap 170. Kahne maintained his presence in the top 10 through ensuing pit stops. When the fourth caution flag was waved with 28 laps, crew chief Kenny Francis decided that Kahne was sufficient on fuel and tires, remained on track. On the restart, Kahne kept steering his No. 5 Chevy in the top five, climbing as high as fourth, before finishing fifth at the 1.058-mile oval.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Finish: Third.
Chase position: 12th.
Race recap: Jeff Gordon opened from the pole position and immediately took the lead around the 1.058-mile oval. But within a few circuits, Gordon, commented to crew chief Alan Gustafson that his car was loose on entry and he slipped to second on Lap 4. Turning laps as far as the leaders, handling remained an issue for the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. He hit pit road on Lap 40, when the yellow flag was waved for a competition caution, and benefited from a solid pit stop plus pit stall location. After picking up right-side tires, he returned to the field on the front row. On the Lap 46 restart, Gordon lined up from the inside and slipped to second as the field went green.

After green-flag stops cycled through on Lap 111, Gordon was running fifth alongside teammates Kasey Kahne (fourth) and Jimmie Johnson (sixth). Gordon stopped for tires after the yellow flag was waved on Lap 128 for a debris caution. The driver of the No. 24 Chevy experienced a handling issue on the ensuing restart and slipped to 10th.  The caution flag was waved with 28 laps to go for debris on the racetrack, and Gordon stayed on the track with the rest of the leaders. On the restart, fourth-place Gordon made a quick move to seize third. He followed teammate Johnson and leader Hamlin as the front of the field stretched out some. He crossed the finish line third.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Finish: Second.
Chase position: First.
Race recap: Jimmie Johnson started 20th and improved to 11th by Lap 33. When the yellow flag was waved on Lap 40 for a competition caution, Johnson stopped for right-side tires and picked up two spots, returning to the field in ninth. He cracked the top five by Lap 105, which is when green-flag stops began, and Johnson led Lap 110 after his teammate Kasey Kahne hit pit road for his stop. Johnson led the lap and then hit pit road for his four-tire stop. The driver of the No. 48 Chevy returned to the track running sixth. On Lap 128, the yellow flag was waved for debris on the track, and crew chief Chad Knaus called Johnson onto pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. The stop put Johnson back in ninth, but he cracked the top five on Lap 144 and was fighting for second just 20 laps later. The driver of the No. 48 Chevy set his sights on leader Denny Hamlin by Lap 165.

With 55 laps left, Johnson pitted for the final time for tires, fuel and adjustments. The caution flag was waved with 28 laps to go for debris on the racetrack, and Knaus instructed Johnson to stay on the track with the rest of the leaders. The late-race yellow flag leveled the playing field for Johnson, who had trailed leader Hamlin by five seconds. On the restart, Johnson lined up from the outside and immediately locked into second behind Hamlin. Johnson crossed the line second and became the new leader in the championship standings.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet
Finish: 13th.
Chase position: Seventh.
Race recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed from his 14th starting spot to run ninth when the yellow flag was waved for a competition caution on Lap 40. Crew chief Steve Letarte called Earnhardt into the pits for two right-side tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment, but the 37-year-old driver drove into the stall too deep and rolled over the tire changer gun hose which delayed the stop. A lengthy pit stop for the No. 88 team meant Earnhardt returned to the track running 20th. Earnhardt struggled to gain track position at the 1.058-mile track, and was about to be lapped when the caution flag fortuitously waved for debris on Lap 128. After a quick stop for tires, fuel and adjustments, Earnhardt was running 16th.

At Lap 161, Earnhardt reported to crew chief Steve Letarte that his car lacked forward bite. Through further adjustments, Earnhardt was able to maintain his position on the track and cracked the top 10 when green-flag stops were cycling through with 45 laps to go. The driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet was one of the drivers who pitted after a late-race caution reset the field. He used the fresh tires and fuel to nab a 13th-place finish at New Hampshire.

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