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Earnhardt second, becomes new points leader; teammates in top 12 at Fontana

FONTANA, Calif.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 19th for the Lap 189 restart and battled his way into second as Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event concluded at Auto Club Speedway. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS picks up his fifth straight top-10 result of the 2013 season to maintain his best season on record and take the lead in the driver standings.

Earnhardt, who crossed the finish line second, was joined in the top 12 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne (ninth), Jeff Gordon (11th) and Jimmie Johnson (12th).

Patience was thematic for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates, as they experienced various handling issues during the 200-lap event at Auto Club Speedway. Here is the race recap by team:

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Ninth.
Standings: Seventh.
Recap: Kasey Kahne opened the 200-lap event in Fontana, Calif., from the 15th position and reported a tight-handling condition during the opening six laps. But patience seemed to be the key, as Kahne improved to 14th and told crew chief Kenny Francis that his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS was feeling better by Lap 12. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 29, Kahne hit pit road for fuel, four tires and an air pressure adjustment to alleviate an alternating tight- and loose-handling condition. On Lap 37, the caution flag was waved again – this time for fluid on the track – but it was too late for Kahne, who sustained right-side damage after slipping in the oil and making contact with the wall. During the yellow-flag period, the No. 5 team addressed the damage, while fueling and providing four new tires for the Chevy SS. Kahne made three stops, including one for a left-front shock adjustment, during this caution period and lined up 35th – still on the lead lap – for the Lap 42 restart. By Lap 64, Kahne had improved to run 11th, despite a tight-handling condition, and he cracked the top 10 on Lap 80. Francis and the No. 5 team addressed a loose-handling condition under caution on Lap 90, as Kahne made a stop while running seventh. The No. 5 team decided against pitting during a late-race caution and lined up fourth for the Lap 174 restart. Kahne improved to second before the caution flag was thrown again within two circuits. Running 10th, Kahne made one final stop under caution with 15 laps to go for fuel, four tires and an air pressure adjustment. He lined up 13th for the Lap 189 restart and held on to finish eighth.


Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 11th.
Standings: 18th.
Recap: Jeff Gordon opened Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Fontana from the 19th position and immediately reported a tight-handling condition to crew chief Alan Gustafson. Gordon’s patience was rewarded as he passed teammate Kasey Kahne to move into 16th on Lap 6. The tight-handling condition reappeared for Gordon when he got into the throttle, but he experienced a loose-handling condition in the corner. As a result, he couldn’t run the top line and slipped some in the field to 17th. He stopped on pit road during the Lap 29 caution period and, despite losing three positions on pit road, he returned to run inside the top 15 during the Lap 35 restart. Two laps later, the caution flag was waved again – this time for fluid on the track – and Gordon slipped in the oil, hitting the wall and sustaining damage to the right-side of his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS. The car appeared fine, at first, so Gordon opted to stay on the track and pick up track position. He restarted ninth for the Lap 40 restart, but slipped to 27th, and ultimately learned from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. that he had significant damage on the right-front of the No. 24 Chevy SS. When the caution flag waved on Lap 90, the No. 24 team used two stops under caution to address the damage. On Lap 117, Gustafson and Gordon used another stop under caution to improve the No. 24 Chevrolet. Gordon rallied from 23rd to line up 14th on the Lap 189 restart. Gordon rocketed to the front and held on to cross the finish line 11th.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 12th.
Standings: Third.
Recap: Crew chief Chad Knaus reminded Jimmie Johnson to drink plenty of fluids as Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event opened in Fontana, Calif., nearby Johnson’s hometown of El Cajon. Starting 19th, Johnson improved to 12th within the first six laps and cracked the top 10 by running a lower line during the next eight laps. He was running ninth when the caution flag was waved for an incident on Lap 29, and he restarted 11th after a trip down pit road. Johnson was shuffled to 13th during the restart and reported under caution on Lap 36 that he thought he was losing positions because he couldn’t get in line to draft. The No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet SS felt good to the five-time California winner, and he opted to stay off pit road during the yellow-flag period. By Lap 62, Johnson had slipped to 15th and was frustrated that cars seemed to be passing him easily on the straightaway. He discussed changes with Knaus, and after Johnson tried new lines unsuccessfully, they planned for major changes during the ensuing stop. On Lap 117, the No. 48 team made those adjustments and sent Johnson back onto the track in 24th. He quietly improved to 19th and eventually reported the No. 48 Chevy was tight. With 17 laps to go, Johnson was running 18th and improved to 15th when the caution flag was waved with 15 laps to go. Johnson held to finish 12th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Second.
Standings: First.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 15th for Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway and was holding steady by Lap 5, while reporting a loose-handling condition entering and exiting the turns. The loose-handling condition didn’t fade for Earnhardt, and by Lap 18, he had slipped to 21st.  On Lap 30, the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS made a pit stop under yellow-flag conditions for four tires and fuel as well as wedge and chassis adjustments. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 36, Earnhardt told crew chief Steve Letarte his car was running much better, so Letarte made the decision for Earnhardt to remain on track during the yellow flag period. Earnhardt lined up 11th for the Lap 42 restart and improved to ninth by Lap 50. During a Lap 67 green-flag pit stop, Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy SS took four tires, fuel and an air-pressure adjustment. The continual tweaks helped, and Earnhardt was running fourth by Lap 82.  Seventeen laps later, Earnhardt reported to Letarte that the No. 88 Chevy was experiencing a tight-handling condition, but within five laps, the issue resolved itself. The No. 88 Chevy seemed to be getting better and better, and Earnhardt, running third with 85 laps to go, even radioed to his team that he was comfortable entering Turns 1 and 2. He hit pit road for routine service under caution with 84 laps to go, but a lengthy stop spelled misfortune for the No. 88 team. An issue with the right-rear tire led to a 22-second stop, and Earnhardt slipped from third to line up 22nd for the restart. Undaunted, Earnhardt encouraged his team over the radio and was running 17th by Lap 139. But a handling issue crept up on Earnhardt during the closing stages of the race, and he slipped to run 24th with 17 laps to go. The No. 88 team made a pit stop under caution with 15 laps to go for four tires and a chassis adjustment to help the tight-handling condition. Earnhardt lined up 19th for the Lap 189 restart and was running eighth with nine laps to go. He dove to the apron of the track to avoid being turned and survived a last-lap crash to finish second and record his fifth straight top 10 of the 2013 season.

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