Kahne earns top five at Phoenix, takes third in the standings
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kasey Kahne scored a top-five finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Phoenix International Raceway and improved to third in the standings, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammates weren’t as fortunate. Jeff Gordon cut a tire late in the race to erase his top-five run, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled to find the perfect handling for his No. 88 Chevrolet. Jimmie Johnson was involved in a late-race incident that affected his lead in the championship standings.
Here is the breakdown by team:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
Race finish: Fourth.
Chase position: Third.
Race recap: Kasey Kahne rolled off the grid fourth on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers insurance Chevrolet immediately charged toward the front, picking up a spot within the first 11 circuits around the one-mile oval. Six laps later, the caution flag was waved and the No. 5 team opted to stay on-track. Kahne continued his forward progress, taking away the runner-up spot from the No. 11 driver shortly after the field reset. Almost 30 laps later, Kahne hit pit road during a yellow-flag period and lost seven spots during the four-tire stop to return running 10th. But he wasn’t outside the top five for long and was quietly running fourth by Lap 106. As the race unfolded, Kahne encountered a loose-handling condition that dropped him to 11th. Kahne overcame the issue to return to the top 10 with 122 laps left in the 312-lap affair. He maintained his position inside the top 10 and was running fourth when the field restarted with 36 laps left. Within three laps, Kahne was running second behind leader Kyle Busch when a caution flag slowed his run. Kahne held third 10 laps later when the field reset once more. After a late-race caution, Kahne restarted fifth for the green-white-checkered flag finish. He crossed the line fourth. Kahne now ranks third in the championship standings with one race remaining in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
Race finish: 30th.
Chase position: 10th.
Race recap: Jeff Gordon lined up 11th for Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, and by Lap 100, he was running sixth. As the race unfolded, Gordon continued to make up considerable time, turning faster lap times than the five cars ahead of him and closing the gap on the leader to 7.2 seconds. He cracked the top five on Lap 151, despite battling lapped traffic. Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson worked with the various handling conditions the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet encountered as the sun set on the desert one-mile oval. During a yellow-flag period on Lap 168, Gordon stopped for four tires, while some of the leaders opted for two. Gordon restarted 12th and encountered a slight traffic problem when his No. 24 Chevy was taken three-wide into the corner. He lost four spots, dropping to 17th on Lap 177. Within seven laps, Gordon was running 12th again, this time quietly on the radio. Gordon improved to run eighth with 88 laps left in the 312-lap event. With 75 laps left, the caution flag was waved for Jimmie Johnson’s incident, and Gordon stopped for fresh tires and fuel. Gustafson told Gordon he could make it on fuel after that stop. But misfortune struck Gordon, who was running fifth with seven laps left in the race. Gordon made contact with a competitor, cut a tire and then made contact with the wall. He was scored 30th as the final laps ticked off. Gordon ranks 10th in the championship standings.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet
Race finish: 32nd.
Chase position: Second.
Race recap: Despite a deep starting position for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway, Jimmie Johnson improved 10 spots to run 14th by Lap 62 at the one-mile desert oval. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet ran as high as seventh when green-flag pit stops were underway on Lap 126. Johnson made his stop eight circuits later to address a tight-handling issue as well as pick up four fresh tires and fuel. Five laps later, Johnson was running 10th when green-flag stops had cycled through. Pit strategy played a role in track position, and Johnson slipped to 14th after his No. 48 team opted for four tires instead of two during a Lap 169 pit stop. But Johnson just drove his way back through the field, cracking the top 10 once more by Lap 184 and nabbing ninth two circuits later. As the race reached halfway, crew chief Chad Knaus instructed Johnson to start searching for different lines, and Knaus reported that the competition appeared to have better luck on the higher lines. Five laps later, Johnson gave up the seventh running position to teammate Kasey Kahne on Lap 227 to see which line he preferred. On Lap 234, misfortune struck Johnson. He reported a lack of brakes after his Chevy made hard contact with the outside wall. Johnson reported to the garage, where his No. 48 team began extensive repair on the right-front suspension. Shortly after the Lap 235 caution, Goodyear discovered the beading on the right-front tire had melted due to excessive braking heat. Johnson returned to the track with 36 laps to go, running 33rd and benefited from the green-white-checkered flag finish to take 32nd. He now ranks second in the driver standings.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet
Race finish: 21st.
Chase position: 12th.
Race recap: Within the first six laps, Earnhardt reported his No. 88 Chevy was experiencing a tight-rolling condition in the center. During the ensuing pit stop, crew chief Steve Letarte called for right-side tires and a chassis adjustment to help the handling issue. As the race unfolded, a loose-handling issue persisted that made it difficult for Earnhardt to gain track position on the competition. Earnhardt restarted 25th and was the fourth car one lap down when the field reset for the green flag on Lap 173. The No. 88 team played with some pit strategy with 85 laps to go, as Earnhardt hit pit road for tires, fuel and adjustments. Earnhardt remained inside the top 25 as the race wound down, and he continued to work with Letarte to find the appropriate handling response. When Johnson encountered an issue late in the race, the members of the No. 88 team stepped up to help their teammate repair the right-front suspension. Earnhardt crossed the finish line 21st and ranks 12th in the championship standings.