DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s promising run in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway was cut short during the final segment after he was involved in a late-race incident.
The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS took the lead by Lap 57, but was unable to hold that position when he was involved in an incident several laps later. He was scored with the ninth-place finish, just ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, both of whom were sidelined by incidents during the 75-lap exhibition event.
Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt secured spots in the Sprint Unlimited by winning a pole position during the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. A fan vote dictated three primary points of Saturday’s race. Fans chose the following lap format (30/25/30) and elected to start the field based on final practice speeds from Friday’s session. The final decision meant a mandatory two-tire stop for competitors coming to the final 20-lap shootout.
Here is a look at how Hendrick Motorsports fared in the non-points Sprint Unlimited race:
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Recap: Jeff Gordon lined up 13th, next to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., for Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. Within the first three laps, Gordon slipped to 17th, but climbed to seventh by the end of the first 30-lap segment. Gordon’s crew chief Alan Gustafson elected only to re-fuel the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS between the first and second segments, giving Gordon a head start going into the 25-lap feature. Gordon rolled off from the front row for the second segment and immediately began racing hard with Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin during the ensuing laps. At Lap 35, Gordon was involved in a nine-car wreck when Matt Kenseth spun after being tapped by Joey Logano. Gordon, after being released from the infield care center, told FOX Sports 1, “We'll start looking forward to qualifying tomorrow and next week." He was scored 12th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS
Recap: Jimmie Johnson lined up last for Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Unlimited event after fans voted to set the field according to the final practice speeds. Undaunted, Johnson climbed 12 positions by Lap 3 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to claim the sixth spot. He improved four more positions during the first segment to move into the second spot by Lap 29. The driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS was running second and coming to final lap of the first segment when he was involved in an incident on Lap 30. After making hard contact with the wall and spinning through the grass, Johnson told crew chief Chad Knaus his No. 48 Chevy SS would not be able to continue the race. "I was trying to set up a pass on the (No.) 11 and work from there,” said Johnson, who was uninjured after the incident. “In the end, I wound up getting turned around." Johnson was scored with a 17th place finish after the incident.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Recap: After starting 14th next to teammate Jeff Gordon in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved into the sixth spot by Lap 6. Earnhardt avoided a nine-car incident at Lap 35, which involved teammate Jeff Gordon, and the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS climbed into the fourth spot by the 43rd lap during the second segment. With five laps to go in the second segment, Earnhardt moved into the second spot. He battled leader and ultimate race winner Denny Hamlin for the top position, but lost the draft in the final lap and slipped to seventh. Coming to the third segment – a 20-lap shootout – Earnhardt benefited from a solid pit stall selection and a strong pit crew effort when fans voted for a mandatory two-tire change. Earnhardt picked up three spots on pit road and moved into the top position during the second lap of the final segment. His promising run was cut short, however, when he hit the wall in the final segment after making contact with a competitor. Earnhardt was scored ninth.