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Gordon evades last-lap incident to earn runner-up honors at Talladega

 

TALLADEGA, Ala.—Jeff Gordon held on to claim his second straight runner-up result in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as a 25-car incident unfolded on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet somehow avoided the last-lap wreck that collected the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

Here is how the race went for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers.

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet
Race finish: 12th
Chase position: Fourth.
Race recap: After winning his first pole position at Talladega Superspeedway, Kasey Kahne led the first seven laps in Sunday’s race at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate track. He hung with the leaders during green-flag racing and climbed six spots after stopping for fuel only on pit road during the first caution period on Lap 17. On the Lap 21 restart, Kahne was third, ahead of teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) and Jeff Gordon (ninth). Kahne bounced in and out of the draft, sometimes connecting with Gordon for a tandem push, but consistently running with the leaders until Lap 100. At that point, his No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet had run out of fuel, so Kahne hit pit road just as the caution flag was waving for an incident. Kahne took fuel and returned to the track before the leaders lapped him. Just to be safe, Kahne pitted once, this time with the leaders, to top off with a bit more fuel. When the field returned to green-flag racing, Kahne was running 29th, ahead of Earnhardt, who was racing for the Lucky Dog position.  Kahne maintained this position after a caution period on Lap 138 when he stopped for right-side tires, fuel and water. Kahne considered partnering with Denny Hamlin as the laps wound down at Talladega. When the caution flag waved on Lap 183 for a single-car spin, Kahne opted to stay on track and climbed to 10th in the running order. As the final three laps ticked down, Kahne was collected in a multi-car incident that affected most of the field.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Race finish: Second.
Chase position: Sixth.
Race recap: Jeff Gordon, a six-time Cup winner at Talladega, rolled off the grid sixth at the 2.66-mile speedway on Sunday. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet held with the main pack and took the lead on Lap 72 for seven circuits. During that timeframe, Gordon put teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a couple other competitors one lap down. Gordon held his position among the leading pack, and hit pit road after the caution flag was waved on Lap 100. The No. 24 team pulled off a solid four-tire stop that inspired crew chief Alan Gustafson to climb down from the pit box and give each crew member a fist bump. Gordon returned to the track and held steady. With 28 laps to go, Gordon was running 17th and instructed by spotter Eddie D’Hondt to save just a bit of fuel. Around five laps later, D’Hondt told Gordon he should be good to go, to “let ‘er rip.” Gordon obliged, hooking up with Earnhardt with 15 laps to go and the teammates headed for the front. On Lap 175, Gordon settled into the second position with leader Jamie McMurray. Gordon, running fourth, opted to stop for a quick splash of fuel when the caution flag was waved on Lap 183. Gordon maintained his position inside the top 15 and navigated his way through the multi-car incident that unfolded on the final lap to claim runner-up honors.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Race finish: 17th
Chase position: Second.
Race recap: Jimmie Johnson’s race-opening strategy at Talladega Superspeedway was to hang in the back of the pack and wait for the right moment. After starting 17th, Johnson held his position, stopping as needed during caution periods on Lap 17 and 100 for fuel and tires. When green-flag pit stops cycled through around Lap 60, Johnson took the lead for 10 laps on Lap 62 before making his own pit road stop. But at Lap 115, crew chief Chad Knaus instructed Johnson to start making his move.  The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet immediately started his forward march, running 13th by Lap 148 thanks to an outside move. Johnson ran as high as 12th as the field continually shuffled around. On Lap 175, Knaus informed Johnson that his No. 48 Chevy would run out of fuel between Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap, and he should be ready because the majority of the field likely would encounter the same thing. Johnson, now fuel-conscious, slid to 18th as the final laps ticked down. Knaus reiterated for Johnson to save fuel when the caution flag waved on Lap 183 for a single-car spin. The driver of the No. 48 Chevy pitted for a quick splash of fuel. Johnson held on during the final three laps of total beating and banging and was collected in a multi-car incident.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew “Paint the 88”/National Guard Chevrolet
Race finish: 20th.
Chase position: 11th.
Race recap: After starting 12th at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought the fans to their feet when he took the lead on Lap 13 at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate track. The driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew “Paint the 88”/National Guard Chevrolet stopped for fuel only during a caution period for an accident on Lap 17. Eleven laps later, Earnhardt was battling for the lead again, and he finally won that battle on Lap 33. But during subsequent green-flag stops, the driver of the No. 88 was clocked too fast exiting the pit lane and was required to complete a pass-through penalty. Crew chief Steve Letarte encouraged Earnhardt, saying, “We’ll be fine. We’ve got a lot of racing here.” The miscue didn’t cost Earnhardt a lap, but it pinned the driver of the No. 88 Chevy deep in the field. Within several circuits, then-leader Gordon caught up with Earnhardt and passed his teammate, putting him a lap down on Lap 76. Earnhardt maintained his position as the first car one lap down, and he earned the Lucky Dog pass when the caution flag was waved on Lap 138 for debris. With 28 laps to go, Earnhardt was running sixth and chasing the lead. Earnhardt opted to stop for a quick splash of fuel when the caution flag waved on Lap 183. During the final three laps of racing action, Earnhardt was collected in a multi-car incident that involved most of the field. When he refired his No. 88 Chevy, Earnhardt gave Johnson a lift back to the garage.

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