Hendrick Motorsports teammates qualify inside top 15 at Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS – Jimmie Johnson advanced to the third and final round during Friday's NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to earn the fifth-place starting position at the 1.5-mile track. The driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS was joined inside the top 15 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Race coverage of the Kobalt 400 begins at 2:30 p.m. ET this Sunday on FOX and PRN. Check local listings, and don't forget about daylight savings time.
Here is a look at each of Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers going into Sunday’s Kobalt 400:
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
SEASON-TO-DATE: Kahne lined up 11th and finished 11th last Sunday, March 2 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. The 33-year-old driver currently ranks 18th in the driver standings.
AT LAS VEGAS: In 10 Cup starts at Vegas, Kahne has collected three top-five finishes, five top-10s and has led 172 laps. In his first Cup start at Las Vegas in 2004, he earned runner-up honors. Most recently, Kahne started fourth, led 114 laps and finished second there in March 2013. Kahne has two career runner-up results at Vegas, which tie him for first at the 1.5-mile oval with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart.
CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Kenny Francis and the No. 5 team unloaded Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-829 this weekend in Vegas. This is a new car.
KAHNE (ON HOW HE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE AS A DRIVER EACH SEASON.): “I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I think with experience you get better to a certain point. I feel like each year I can keep excelling and getting better. We have a couple of really nice changes with the Farmers Insurance team this season with engineer Chris Spaulding moving up and Kenny (Francis, crew chief) is excited – that’s a big part of it, too, going into the season with a lot of excitement, momentum and motivation.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS
SEASON-TO-DATE: Gordon opened the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season with finishes of fourth at Daytona (Fla.) and fifth at Phoenix. This marks the first time he has started a season with two consecutive top-five finishes since his 1997 championship year. Gordon ranks third in the driver standings and trails 2014 Daytona 500 winner and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 10 points.
AT LAS VEGAS: Gordon has one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 16 Cup starts at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He has an average starting position of 13.6 and an average finish of 15.4.
CHASSIS CHOICE: No. 24 crew chief Alan Gustafson has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 24-830 for this Sunday's Kobalt 400. The only other event where Gordon drove this chassis was the 2013 season finale at Homestead. Then, he started 26th and finished 11th at the 1.5-mile track.
GORDON (ON THE CHALLENGES OF LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY.): "We tested earlier this year at Nashville (Tenn.), and Las Vegas is a little more high banked compared to Nashville. And Las Vegas is extremely rough going into Turn 1. The challenges we will face at Vegas are the same challenges we have faced in the past. We're up against the loads (of the car) in general at speed but also trying to get over these bumps, and that's very, very challenging. You can run up high (to avoid bumps in Turn 1), but even then usually your left-side tires are on them.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS
SEASON-TO-DATE: Jimmie Johnson scored his second straight top-10 result of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season when he crossed the finish line sixth last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Johnson has an average finish of 5.5 to start the season and ranks fifth in the driver standings.
AT LAS VEGAS: Johnson is the all-time race winner at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with four victories at the 1.5-mile desert track. Johnson has the Cup Series’ best average running position (9.553) during the last nine races at Las Vegas, according to NASCAR’s loop data statistics. During that same timeframe, Johnson has led the most laps (408 total) and averaged the best finish (9.0) among his peers.
CHASSIS CHOICES: Knaus has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 48-824 for Las Vegas. Johnson drove this car to a sixth-place result last October at Kansas Speedway. The backup car for Vegas is Chassis No. 48-784 which Johnson raced three times in 2013, including to Victory Lane in the All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
JOHNSON (ON RACING AT LAS VEGAS.): “We are looking forward to the opportunity for the extra test day in Vegas. With all the rule changes, we really need that time on these types of tracks to figure some things out. Again, this weekend will be pretty interesting. Plus this race is sponsored by Lowe’s /KOBALT so we want to do well for KOBALT and keep that trophy in house. We were very focused at the end of 2013 to closeout ’13 strong. We didn’t participate in the test sessions that took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway on 2014 package. We knew it would hurt us a little bit at the start of the year and there’s a little bit of that there. So as you can imagine we are really looking forward to the test on Thursday.”
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 MOUNTAIN DEW KICKSTART CHEVROLET SS
SEASON-TO-DATE: Earnhardt opened the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season by winning the Daytona 500 and finishing second last week at Phoenix International Raceway. Earnhardt’s average finish of 1.5 is the best of his 14 previous full Cup seasons. Prior to this year, he averaged a 3.0 finish in the first two races of 2004 and a 3.5-place finish to open 2013.
AT LAS VEGAS: In 14 Sprint Cup starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has scored two top-five finishes, seven top-10s and has led 232 laps. He has an 8.8 average finish behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet during the six Cup events at the track. Earnhardt has two runner-up finishes at the 1.5-mile oval, and that ties him for first with teammate Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart on the track’s all-time list.
CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend, crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team unloaded Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-822. Earnhardt most recently raced this car to a third–place finish at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November.
EARNHARDT (ON LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY.): “Vegas has a lot of bumps going into Turn 1. They are something else. I’m impressed each time I go there how much rougher it is. That really challenges you to set the car up to be able to get through the bumps. Your performance at Vegas can set the tone for the other intermediate tracks. Confidence is everything and when you go to Vegas. If you run well, you expect to go to the next mile-and-a-half and run well.”