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Kahne, Gordon, Earnhardt finish in top 10 at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kasey Kahne closed in on leader Matt Kenseth in the final 14 laps of Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway and appeared poised for his second straight victory at the historic short track. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS continually and cleanly fought for the lead, but time wasn’t on his side. He left the 500-lap event with a runner-up result, his third straight top-10 finish at the .533-mile track.

Kahne was joined in the top 10 by teammates Jeff Gordon (seventh) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10th). Jimmie Johnson was involved in a late-race incident and was scored 36th.

The strong runs were beneficial for Kahne and Gordon, both of whom improved their chances for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kahne improved to eighth in the standings, while Gordon is 13th and 11 points outside the top 10, which is the cutoff for automatic Chase qualifiers. There are two races left before the field is determined for NASCAR’s postseason.

Here are the recaps by team:

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Second.
Standings: Eighth.
Recap: Kasey Kahne was the top qualifier among his Hendrick Motorsports teammates and rolled off the grid seventh in Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway. During the early stages of the race, the handling of Kahne’s No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS varied from tight to loose as he maintained his position inside the top 10. Crew chief Kenny Francis addressed Kahne’s comments with several chassis adjustments during the first 100 laps. A call for four tires during a pit stop under caution on Lap 89 cost Kahne track position. He restarted 22nd and slipped another four spots by the time the next yellow flag was waved nine laps later. Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy SS received contact during the restart, but the damage was minor and the team addressed it during a subsequent pit stop. Back on track, Kahne had made significant gains, climbing to ninth, and he told Francis the No. 5 Chevy SS was handling better.  Kahne appeared committed to the bottom lane at Bristol’s .533-mile oval and continued to work with Francis on the handling of the car. Francis alternated the tire strategy for the No. 5 team and opted for four tires during a stop under caution on Lap 333. Kahne remained inside the top 10 after the stop and improved to run sixth on Lap 347, five laps after the restart. Kahne climbed to third by the time the caution flag was waved on Lap 439 for a multi-car incident that ultimately brought out the red flag. When NASCAR officials opened pit road, Kahne stopped for fuel and right-side tires. He returned to the track ninth for the restart and was battling for second with 30 laps to go. By Lap 473, Kahne had won the second spot and was eyeing his second straight victory at the historic short track.  He chased leader Matt Kenseth and slipped by him briefly with 14 laps to go, but couldn’t hold onto the lead. Kahne crossed the line second.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Seventh.
Standings: 13th.
Recap: Jeff Gordon lined up 32nd in the No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS and quietly worked his way through the field. He was running 19th when the caution flag was waved on Lap 41, and crew chief Alan Gustafson decided to forego a pit stop in favor of track position. As a result, Gordon lined up eighth for the restart. Gordon improved to run third by Lap 54 and was battling for the lead 29 laps later. The nose of the No. 24 Chevy SS sustained some damage when an incident unfolded in Turn 4 on Lap 176. Gordon slid slightly into the back of the No. 47 car, but Gustafson assured Gordon the car was fine. Subsequently, Gordon was running third when he reported climbing water and oil temperatures. He opted to pit during a Lap 202 caution so Gustafson could address, which he did with a combination of a spring rubber and tape on the grille. Gordon, who also took right-side tires and fuel during the stop, restarted 20th and climbed five spots by Lap 225. “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Gordon told his team after the restart. He called the car “excellent” as he notched out a spot in the top 10 by Lap 250. Momentum started swinging Gordon’s way as the race unfolded. A solid presence on pit road combined with improved water and oil temperatures made for a fun night for the five-time Bristol victor. He was running third and stayed on track following a caution/red-flag period for a multi-car incident on Lap 439. On the Lap 453 restart, Gordon was shuffled outside and slipped to fifth before settling into ninth on older tires. Gordon rallied as the laps ticked down and crossed the finish line seventh.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 36th.
Standings: First.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson lined up 14th for Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway and improved two spots within the first six circuits. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS reported a tight-handling condition that he and crew chief Chad Knaus spent the early stages of the race discussing. Pit road adjustments helped some, but Johnson struggled to crack the top 10 at Bristol’s .533-mile oval. During a caution period on Lap 179, Knaus decided to take a big swing at freeing up the No. 48 Chevy SS, while also making minor repairs because the car received some contact from the No. 33 car prior to the yellow flag. The lengthy stop initially cost Johnson track position, and his report wasn’t promising back on track. Johnson told Knaus he was still tight while driving in traffic, so Knaus ordered more changes during the ensuing pit stop. Johnson restarted 26th on Lap 265 and survived several following caution periods to run 18th on Lap 345. Johnson was making forward progress and attempted to clear an incident in Turn 4 when he was trapped by a wrecking competitor. The contact, Johnson said, “knocked the radiator” out of the No. 48 Chevy SS, and he had to report to the garage where his team could make repairs. Johnson returned to the track and finished 36th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 10th.
Standings: Seventh.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. opened Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway from the 19th position and quietly improved to 11th by Lap 7. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 40, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte opted to pit and address the loose-handling condition that had developed in the corners. The adjustments helped, and Earnhardt cracked the top 10 by Lap 52. The second caution flag was issued on Lap 90, and this time, Letarte instructed then seventh-place Earnhardt to stay on track. As a result, Earnhardt took the lead and paced the field for the next 32 laps before a tight-handling condition emerged in the turns. Earnhardt hovered inside the top 12 as the race unfolded, working with Letarte through various handling issues – mostly tight in the center of the corners and loose on exit. Letarte also didn’t miss an opportunity to remind Earnhardt to save fuel as the race wound down. With 73 laps to go, Letarte informed Earnhardt that they would be about four laps shy on fuel; keep saving. A multi-car incident brought out the red flag temporarily on Lap 439, and when NASCAR officials opened pit road, Letarte told Earnhardt to stop for four tires and fuel. Earnhardt restarted 15th on fresh tires and improved to finish 10th when the checkered flag was waved.

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