Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson and Kahne finish in top 11 at Phoenix
AVONDALE, Ariz.—Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2014 momentum continued on Sunday when he recorded runner-up honors at Phoenix International Raceway. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS now averages a 1.5 finish to start the 2014 season.
Earnhardt, who retains the points lead for the 2014 season, was joined inside the top 11 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates on Sunday. Jeff Gordon finished fifth ahead of Jimmie Johnson in sixth. Kasey Kahne crossed the finish line 11th.
Here’s a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared at Phoenix:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Recap: After starting 11th, Kahne almost immediately slipped four positions and radioed crew chief Kenny Francis that his car had developed a loose-handling conditions. Kahne was running 23rd by Lap 81 and had moved up one position at the halfway mark. Kahne worked with Francis on the handling of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS and rallied to return to the lead lap after earning the Lucky Dog pass when the caution flag was waved on Lap 181. Very soon, Kahne was running back inside the top 16. With 81 laps to go, he moved into the 17th position. He was running 13th during the final caution period at the one-mile track. Kahne improved two spots to run 11th with eight laps to go, and that is where he finished Sunday's race.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Pepsi MAX Chevrolet SS
Recap: After starting in the 17th position, Gordon quickly propelled his No. 24 Pepsi MAX Chevrolet SS into the 10th spot by Lap 17. He moved into the sixth position after coming off the first competition caution on Lap 35. By Lap 95, Gordon was running fifth beside teammate Jimmie Johnson. Gordon led four laps while green-flag pit stops were happening midway through Sunday's race. He made his pit stop on Lap 242 and resumed running inside the top 15 at Phoenix. With 21 laps to go, Gordon had improved to 10th at the one-mile track. He was running seventh under the final caution and moved into fifth with eight laps to go. He ultimately finished fifth to record his second straight top five result of the season.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet SS
Recap: Johnson lined up fourth for Sunday's 312-lap event at Phoenix and quickly moved into the third position within the first three circuits. Early in the race, Johnson radioed crew chief Chad Knaus that he was losing rear tire grip. Nevertheless, Johnson moved into the third position by Lap 112, before taking his first green-flag pit stop. By the halfway point, he was running in fifth consistently ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon. At Lap 165, Johnson told Knaus he still was experiencing a loose-handling condition on his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet SS. Knaus elected for a four-tire change and chassis adjustment at the next yellow-flag pit stop at Lap 164. The continual adjustments helped, and with 86 laps to go, Johnson moved into fourth. Knaus called Johnson into pit road during a late-race caution that only temporarily pulled the No. 48 team out of the top 10. Johnson cracked into the top 10 with 60 laps to go and moved into sixth just before the sixth caution. Johnson picked up one spot before finally settling into sixth when he crossed the finish line.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Recap: Coming off his second career Daytona 500 win, Earnhardt started strong at Phoenix. He lined up fifth and spent the majority of the day running inside the top 10. During the first competition caution at Lap 35, Earnhardt told crew chief Steve Letarte that his No. 88 Chevy felt good and needed few adjustments. Earnhardt moved into the runner-up position by Lap 79, trailing leader Kevin Harvick by .919 seconds at Lap 121. At Lap 144, Earnhardt cut Harvick’s lead in half. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS fluctuated within the top five as the race wound down and a combination of late-race cautions, lapped traffic and restarts affected Earnhardt's chances of catching eventual winner Kevin Harvick. Despite making contact with a competitor during one of the late-race restarts, Earnhardt maintained his runner-up position. He finished second at the one-mile track to mark his second straight top-two finish of the year.