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Hendrick Motorsports trio finishes in top 12 under lights at Chicagoland

JOLIET, Ill. – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne scored finishes inside the top 12 during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Chicagoland Speedway. The race, which signaled the opening for the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, stretched over nearly 10 hours through two rain delays and various caution periods.

Here are the extended recaps by team:

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 12th.
Chase standings: 10th.
Race recap: Kasey Kahne opened Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Chicagoland Speedway from the fourth position and an immediate tight-handling condition cost him track position. Kahne slipped to eighth before hitting pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment during NASCAR’s Lap 31 competition caution. A slight drizzle delayed the restart, but when the field resumed green-flag racing on Lap 37, Kahne was running 13th. Kahne notified crew chief Kenny Francis that he needed the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS to turn better, like it did during Saturday’s final practice, which he led. Kahne climbed to fourth when green-flag pit stops began on Lap 75. He stopped shortly after for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. The tweaks helped, and Kahne was running ninth back on track at Lap 85. Kahne focused on improving his track position as rain threatened outside the 1.5-mile oval. On Lap 108, the caution flag was waved for rain on the track. The yellow flag was exchanged for a red one, and NASCAR stopped competitors on pit road. Prior to the rain delay, Kahne and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were running inside the top nine. When the red flag was lifted, Kahne picked up four spots with a two-tire stop. He restarted fourth, and within two laps, Kahne was contending for the third spot. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 122, Kahne told Francis that his No. 5 Chevy SS felt a little tight, but seemed to be running well. Kahne restarted fourth on Lap 128 and was running seventh when the caution flag waved again on Lap 167. While making his stop for right-side tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment, Kahne sustained contact on pit road that required a subsequent pit stop. The No. 5 team worked to get Kahne back on the track, and he returned to run 30th to race for valuable Chase points. Kahne swiftly toured the 1.5-mile speedway, improving to 11th by Lap 200. He cracked the top 10 within 12 circuits and was running seventh by Lap 219. With 47 laps to go, he made a green-flag stop for fuel and four tires. Kahne lined up 10th for the Lap 230 restart and improved to seventh before stopping during a Lap 240 caution period for right-side tires and fuel. Kahne lined up 10th for the Lap 243 restart and was battling Gordon for eighth within one lap. He held on to finish Sunday’s race 12th.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Sixth.
Chase standings: Seventh.
Race recap: Jeff Gordon, a recent addition to the Chase field, lined up sixth on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. He slipped to eighth when a tight-handling condition emerged, but held on to pass teammate Kasey Kahne for seventh just before NASCAR issued the competition caution on Lap 31. During the yellow-flag stop, the No. 24 team gave up four positions on pit road when it opted for four tires instead of two. Gordon lined up for the restart in 11th and cracked the top 10 within one lap. The adjustments paid off, and the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS continued working his way through the field. He ran as high as fifth before green-flag stops began on Lap 75 and led one lap at the 1.5-mile oval before making his stop for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. Gordon was running sixth on Lap 85 when green-flag stops cycled through. Back on track, Gordon radioed that the No. 24 Chevy SS was running better. On Lap 108, the caution flag was waved for rain on the track. The yellow flag was exchanged for a red one, and the NASCAR competitors stopped on pit road. Prior to the rain delay, Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were running inside the top nine. Gordon hit pit road when the red flag was lifted and took four tires, which meant he lined up 11th for the restart. By Lap 120, Gordon was running 10th. The No. 24 team opted not to pit when the caution flag was waved two laps later, so Gordon stayed in 10th for the Lap 128 restart. He improved to seventh within four laps, quietly slipping by Kahne for sixth just past halfway – Lap 134 – and continued his forward march to take fifth a few laps later. On Lap 148, the caution flag was waved and Gordon moved into the lead after a 6.9-second stop for right-side tires and fuel. Gordon jumped to the lead before the caution flag was waved again on Lap 153. He stayed on the track and held the top spot through the next caution period 14 laps later. Gordon took fuel only during the yellow flag, but traffic on pit road stalled his exit and he followed Kyle Busch. The two competitors lined up behind Greg Biffle and Casey Mears, who opted not to pit. Gordon restarted fourth and at the drop of the green flag, encountered a flat left-rear tire that prompted an unscheduled pit stop. Gordon stopped for left-side tires and fuel before returning to the 1.5-mile oval running one lap down. With 84 laps to go, he moved into the Lucky Dog position. The green-flag run continued, and Gordon soon didn’t need to worry about the free pass. He moved into the lead as competitors began green-flag stops and was pacing the field when his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought out a caution flag on Lap 226. Gordon stopped for four tires and fuel during the yellow-flag period and lined up 18th for the restart. Gordon clicked off eight spots before a Lap 240 caution period, and he opted to stay out and restarted seventh. Gordon dove to the bottom on the Lap 243 restart but couldn’t make up much track position. He held on to finish sixth.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Fifth.
Chase standings: Third.
Race recap: Jimmie Johnson started ninth on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway and quickly worked his way through the field. By Lap 13, Johnson cracked the top five, and 15 laps later, he was running third. Johnson told crew chief Chad Knaus that the car was pushy and needed more grip so the No. 48 team obliged during the competition caution period on Lap 31. With right-side tires, fuel and adjustments, Johnson was the first car off pit road. Johnson chose to line up from the outside for the restart and took the lead when the green flag dropped. Within six circuits, Johnson surpassed 15,000 career laps lead. He remains ranked ninth all-time and second behind teammate Jeff Gordon. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS stretched out his lead on Sunday until Lap 75, when he made a green-flag pit stop. During the four-tire, fuel stop, there was some confusion over the number of lugnuts on the right-rear tire, which delayed the stop to roughly 20 seconds. The miscue slightly affected Johnson’s run for the lead, and he returned to the track running fifth. By the time the yellow flag was displayed for rain, Johnson had improved to fourth and was clocking lap times as fast as the leaders. The NASCAR officials exchanged the yellow flag for a red one on Lap 110. Prior to the rain delay, Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were running inside the top nine. Johnson picked up two spots with a two-tire stop after the red flag was lifted. He restarted in second from the outside line and battled with Matt Kenseth for the lead under the lights at Chicagoland. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 122, Knaus encouraged Johnson to save fuel. Johnson lined up again in second on the outside line for the Lap 128 restart. He slipped into third as the green-flag run unfolded. On Lap 149, Johnson hit pit road during a caution period for four tires and fuel. An issue with the jack – it broke – stalled the stop and meant Johnson restarted 22nd. Undaunted, Johnson began his charge through the field and was running 15th by Lap 167, when another caution flag was thrown. The No. 48 team took four tires during the stop, which put them back in traffic again, but Johnson reported the car was running great. The only thing the team needed was track position, which he got during a restart with 83 laps to go. He improved to run 13th. By Lap 210, Johnson was third, and nine laps later, he made a green-flag stop for four tires and fuel. Johnson lined up third for the Lap 230 restart and opted to stay on-track when the caution flag was waved 10 laps later. He restarted fifth and held on to finish fifth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 35th.
Chase standings: 13th
Race recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 18th in his No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. By Lap 13, Earnhardt had improved five spots and told crew chief Steve Letarte the car was loose off the corners and tight on the entrance of the corners. During the competition caution, Earnhardt took right-side tires and fuel and picked up nine spots on pit road thanks to swift work by his No. 88 team. He restarted third on Lap 35 and slipped to seventh 30 laps later when the loose-handling condition crept up again. Letarte called for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment during the ensuing green-flag stop on Lap 77, and Earnhardt held his seventh-place running position. As the race continued, so did Earnhardt’s appreciation for how the No. 88 Chevy SS was handling. Unfortunately, the green-flag run was cut short when rain showers pummeled the 1.5-mile track. Running seventh, Earnhardt hit pit road when NASCAR officials exchanged the yellow flag for a red one and suspended racing action for the rain. Prior to the rain delay, Earnhardt and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were running inside the top nine. Earnhardt picked up three spots with a two-tire stop after the red flag was lifted. Running fifth shortly after the restart, Earnhardt improved to contend with teammate Kasey Kahne for the fourth position. The No. 88 team opted against pitting during a Lap 122 yellow-flag period, and Letarte told Earnhardt, who lined up fifth for the restart, to save fuel. Earnhardt hovered inside the top 10 as the green-flag period unfolded, and he reported around Lap 140 that he was having trouble hearing spotter TJ Majors over the radio. He expressed further frustration with his car after he received contact from the No. 29 on track. The No. 88 team pulled out the fender to prevent tire rub on the ensuing Lap 148 pit stop. Earnhardt restarted 17th, survived another caution period and improved seven spots before the yellow flag was waved on Lap 167. Earnhardt sustained contact on pit road that required a subsequent pit stop to address the damage. The time on pit road hurt his run, and Earnhardt returned to the track running 23rd. Earnhardt worked to gain valuable Chase points by making up track position, but struggled because of the damage to the nose. Letarte told Earnhardt the No. 88 team needed to make further repairs, and they hoped for another caution period. When that didn’t happen, the No. 88 team took advantage of green-flag stops to lead some laps around the 1.5-mile speedway. With 44 laps to go, he stopped for four tires and fuel. But misfortune struck back on track, when Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy SS encountered an engine issue. Earnhardt left Chicagoland scored in 35th. 

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