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Race recap: Johnson, Earnhardt and Gordon in top 10 at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jimmie Johnson lined up on the outside of the front row for the green-white-checkered flag restart on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. But the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS was unable to snag his second win of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season as Carl Edwards got an incredible boost from then-third-place Brad Kesewloski and went on to Victory Lane.

Johnson recorded runner-up honors, scoring his second straight top-two finish of the season, and led teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fifth) and Jeff Gordon (ninth) in the top 10. Kasey Kahne, who experienced a late-race issue, finished 19th.

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 19th.
Standings: 31st.
Recap: Kasey Kahne rolled off the grid Sunday in second – his best career starting spot at Phoenix International Raceway. The driver of the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet SS maintained his second running position through the first caution period of the race on Lap 21. Kahne skipped an early pit road stop and several laps later reported a loose-handling condition. He slipped from the front row after the Lap 28 restart, giving up the second spot to teammate Jimmie Johnson, and asked his team for more grip during the next stop. The No. 5 team delivered during a two-tire pit stop under caution on Lap 48, and Kahne left with the lead among pitting cars. He lined up seventh for the restart behind drivers who didn’t pit. Kahne continued to battle a loose-handling condition as the second event of the season unfolded and the sun played peek-a-boo with the racetrack. On Lap 180, Kahne was running eighth when he radioed crew chief Kenny Francis that he was “dirt-tracking sideways” around the one-mile desert oval. One lap later, Kahne’s Quaker State Chevrolet SS made contact with the wall and he slipped slightly off the pace. The sixth caution flag was waved at a good time for Kahne, who had slipped to 11th, and his team tended to the damaged right-rear fender. He returned to the track running 20th and improved to finish 19th.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 PepsiMAX Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Ninth.
Standings: Eighth.
Race recap: “Alright bud, let’s do this,” crew chief Alan Gustafson radioed Jeff Gordon to start Sunday’s race. “We got a good car.” Gordon agreed about his No. 24 PepsiMAX Chevrolet SS, which immediately showed speed as Gordon climbed from his fifth-place starting spot to fourth within several circuits. Gordon continued to chase teammates Jimmie Johnson, who then was running third, and Kasey Kahne in second. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet maintained his footing inside the top five as various caution flags were issued and despite minor contact from a competitor on Lap 31. Seven laps later, Gustafson radioed to a quiet Gordon that he was turning “real good laps.” As the race progressed, Gordon negotiated through handling issues and reported a vibration to Gustafson that the No. 24 team was able to address on an ensuing caution period. With less than 100 laps to go, Gordon fought his way back into the top 10. Running ninth, Gordon said his car began the segment with a tight-handling condition but improved during green-flag conditions. Gustafson encouraged Gordon to save fuel as the laps ticked down at Phoenix, and he crossed the finish line ninth.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Second.
Standings: First.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson started Sunday’s 312-lap event at Phoenix in third, but was running second within the first 28 laps of the event. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS negotiated the one-mile desert oval and spent most of his time running inside the top five, although he encountered a slight setback on Lap 53. Then, Johnson took four tires during a pit stop and restarted 18th after the majority of the field took two tires. But by Lap 125, Johnson was running fifth and reported a tight-handling condition when exiting the corners. Still, Johnson continued to battle through and coming to the green-flag on the outside row for the Lap 147 restart, Johnson rolled off in second following then-leader Carl Edwards.  On Lap 232, running second behind teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson told crew chief Chad Knaus that his No. 48 Chevrolet SS was mostly tight. During a caution period five laps later, the No. 48 team addressed the handling and gave the car a full tank of fuel in anticipation for a fuel-mileage finish. On the Lap 242 restart, Johnson lined up third and followed then-leader Carl Edwards through the green flag and into second. Knaus told Johnson seven laps later that his No. 48 Chevy should be good on fuel, and second-place Johnson continued to work on leader Edwards. With three laps to go, the caution flag was thrown, putting Johnson back on equal footing with Edwards. The leaders stayed out during the yellow-flag segment, and Johnson lined up on the outside of the front row, but couldn’t push past Edwards, who was being pushed by third-place Brad Keselowski. Johnson crossed the finish line second.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Fifth.
Standings: Second.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 21st for Sunday’s race at Phoenix, but climbed to eighth within the first 104 circuits of the one-mile desert oval thanks to smooth driving and pit strategy. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS worked his way through several initial handling issues and even improved 11 spots early during 18 laps. On Lap 100, he cracked the top 10 after a two-tire, fuel stop on pit road that put him in eighth. Earnhardt continued his forward march and was running third behind Johnson on Lap 154. After pit stops during a caution period on Lap 185, Earnhardt took the lead on Lap 191. On the restart, Earnhardt held onto the top spot for 47 circuits. Earnhardt, who was blocked leaving pit road, settled into second for the Lap 242 restart. He lined up on the outside, but spun his tires coming to the green flag and slipped into second, then third behind Johnson, who had lined up behind then-leader Carl Edwards. As the 312-lap race unfolded under green-flag conditions, crew chief Steve Letarte encouraged Earnhardt to save fuel. Earnhardt lined up fifth for the green-white-checkered flag restart and held on to finish there, recording his second straight top-10 result of the season.

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