Hendrick Motorsports drivers finish in top 12 at Kentucky
SPARTA, Ky. – Hendrick Motorsports quartet of drivers overcame various issues on Sunday to record finishes inside the top 12 at Kentucky Speedway. Jeff Gordon led his teammates with an eighth-place result, while Jimmie Johnson was ninth. Kasey Kahne was scored 11th and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the pole winner for the 267-lap event, was 12th.
The race, originally scheduled for Saturday night, was postponed to Sunday due to persistent rainfall.
Here are the race recaps by driver:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 11th.
Recap: Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet SS, opened Sunday’s race from the 21st position and improved to run 14th by the time the competition caution flag was waved on Lap 30. Swift work by the No. 5 team helped Kahne pick up six spots on pit road. Kahne lined up eighth for the Lap 43 restart and improved to run seventh during several caution periods in 11 laps. Two laps later, the fourth caution flag was waved for a multi-car incident. Unaffected, Kahne was running ninth at the time of the Lap 48 incident that ultimately brought out the red flag. After the Lap 51 restart, Kahne was running eighth and climbed to third 25 green-flag laps later. Kahne held steady in the top 10 as the race unfolded and worked with crew chief Kenny Francis to address a tight-handling condition. Kahne’s strong run took a hit during a pit stop under caution on Lap 147 when he inadvertently slid through the pit box. He had to back up before the No. 5 team could give the Quaker State Chevrolet SS four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Kahne lined up 19th for the restart and cracked the top 10 on Lap 186. Running fifth with 20 laps to go, Kahne hit pit road during caution for right-side tires and a splash of fuel. Unfortunately, during the stop, Kahne was clocked too fast on pit road and had to report to the tail end of the longest line on the restart. Kahne ultimately improved to finish 11th.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Eighth.
Recap: Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid 12th on Sunday and climbed to ninth by the time the competition caution flag waved on Lap 30. Gordon picked up two spots during a right-side tire, fuel stop and restarted seventh in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS. Back on track, Gordon navigated his way through four restarts, including one where a neighboring competitor spun out next to him, to maintain his footing inside the top 10. The No. 24 Chevy SS sustained slight left-rear damage as the competitor made contact with him before spinning, but it didn’t impact the car’s strength. Gordon climbed to third before a multi-car incident unfolded on Lap 48. After the caution period, which briefly turned into a red-flag period, crew chief Alan Gustafson opted against pitting and told Gordon to keep his tires clean. Gordon lined up third and ran inside the top five despite a tight-handling condition. On Lap 88, Gordon made his way down pit road for a green-flag stop when the caution flag was waved. Trapped on pit road, Gordon took the wave-around during the caution period to stay on the lead lap. He restarted 21st, but used a subsequent caution on Lap 107 to stay out and move into ninth. Gordon was shuffled back into 18th on the restart. An ill-timed caution flag on Lap 149 again put Gordon a lap down, but Gustafson updated the call from four tires to right-sides only, and the No. 24 Chevy SS became the first car a lap down as a result. Gordon used the Lucky Dog pass to remain on the lead lap and in 25th for the restart on Lap 154. On Lap 180, Gordon cracked the top 15 while recording some of the fastest laps on track. “When you get clean air,” spotter Eddie D’Hondt radioed Gordon, “you’re as good as the leader.” Running sixth with 20 laps to go, Gordon pitted under caution for right-side tires and fuel. He survived the ensuing restart despite an almost immediate spin by teammate Johnson and lined up third for the next green flag that was waved with 16 laps to go. He was shuffled back slightly to eighth and ultimately finished eighth.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Ninth.
Race recap: Jimmie Johnson started Sunday’s 267-lap event at Kentucky Speedway from the third position and held steady in the top five until Lap 30 when a competition caution was issued. He took right-side tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment during the caution period before racing off pit road behind teammate and leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. Johnson lined up next to Earnhardt for the Lap 35 restart and was contending for the lead, when the right-front tire casing came off a pitting competitor and bounced off the front of both Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Earnhardt sustained the majority of damage, while Johnson’s ride showed just minor damage to the right-front of the hood. Both drivers stayed on track, and one lap after the Lap 42 restart, Johnson moved in to take the lead. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS held the top spot through the next three caution periods, including the one on Lap 48 that brought out the red flag, to pace the field for 52 straight circuits. Johnson maintained his pace inside the top five and focused on saving fuel during the following caution periods as crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team gambled with pit strategy. Johnson lined up on the inside for the Lap 154 restart and quickly battled for the lead. Johnson had led a race-high 182 laps when the caution flag was waved with 20 laps to go. The No. 48 team opted for right-side tires and left the pits in second behind the No. 20 car that opted for a fuel-only stop. Johnson, who lined up on the inside for the green flag, did not get a good restart and spun on track. He restarted outside the top 20, after pitting for four tires and fuel, and climbed to 12th by Lap 255. Johnson kept clocking fast lap times and finished ninth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Youth Foundation Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 12th.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Kentucky Speedway, his first at the 1.5-mile tri-oval and the 12th of his career. Earnhardt initially reported to crew chief Steve Letarte that the No. 88 National Guard Youth Challenge Chevrolet SS was tight, and the issue was addressed during the Lap 30 competition caution. Earnhardt won the race off pit road and lined up next to teammate Jimmie Johnson for the Lap 35 restart. The driver of the No. 88 Chevy SS paced the field for the next nine laps before being encountering debris on the racetrack. Earnhardt was leading when a piece of tire casing struck the front of his car and then struck Johnson. Letarte inspected the damage with binoculars and the temperatures appeared level, so Earnhardt remained on-track for the Lap 43 restart. Further driving showed a deeper issue, so the No. 88 team began to contemplate a strategy. The No. 88 team caught somewhat of a break when the red flag was displayed on Lap 49 for a multi-car incident. Letarte and his crew used the time to formulate a plan to fix the nose of the No. 88 Chevy SS. When pit road was opened, Earnhardt made a stop for substantial, but swift repairs. Earnhardt restarted in 30th on Lap 51 and began his climb forward. By Lap 113, Earnhardt had cracked the top 10. His team continued to add tape during pit stops and address a tight-handling issue as the race unfolded. Earnhardt had improved to run 10th with 11 laps to go and held on for a 12th-place finish.