Gordon, Earnhardt, Johnson qualify in top seven at Michigan
BROOKLYN, Mich. – Jeff Gordon advanced to Friday's final round of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Michigan International Speedway and posted the second-fastest time to qualify second for Sunday's race at the Irish Hills track. Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson also advanced to the final round and will start third and seventh, respectively. After posting the fastest time in Friday's practice session and advancing to the second round in qualifying, Kasey Kahne was knocked off the bubble position in the second round and will start the 400-mile event from the 13th position.
This weekend at Michigan, Hendrick Motorsports will be looking for its fifth consecutive points-paying Sprint Cup win of 2014. It is the sixth separate time Hendrick Motorsports teams have combined to win at least four consecutive points races, including the 2007 Sprint Cup season when the organization posted three separate win streaks of four, five and six races apiece. The team also won four consecutive races in both 1996 and 1998. Every time Hendrick Motorsports has won four or more consecutive Sprint Cup races, one of the team's drivers has gone on to win that year's Cup championship.
In 194 starts at Michigan, Hendrick Motorsports has led 2,196 laps en route to six wins, 44 top-five finishes and 81 top-10s at the two-mile oval. Earnhardt most recently visited Michigan’s Victory Lane in June 2012, when he led 95 laps to give Hendrick Motorsports its sixth win at the D-shaped track.
Sunday's Cup race will be televised at 1 p.m. ET on TNT and MRN. Check local listings.
Here is a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports teams have fared at the Irish Hills track.
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
SEASON-TO-DATE: In 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this season, Kahne ranks eighth for fastest speed in traffic with an average running position of 11.357 and eighth in fastest drivers early in a run (11.000). The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS is ninth in quality passes (880), ninth in fastest laps run (120), 10th in the closers category (21 positions improved in the last 10 percent of each race) and 10th in green-flag speed (11.400).
BLEACHER REPORT TEAM STREAM APP: The No. 5 Chevrolet SS will feature the Bleacher Report “Team Stream” app on the rear quarter panels for Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway. Farmers Insurance has partnered with Bleacher Report for the 400-mile race to promote the app, whose purpose is to provide another great way for fans to follow Kahne. Fans are encouraged to download the app, as a portion of the proceeds will go toward Kahne’s upcoming charity event, The DRIVE. The DRIVE is a celebrity concert and golf tournament Kahne is cohosting with NFL Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson that is helping to raise awareness of the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County in Washington.
AT MICHIGAN: In 20 Sprint Cup starts at Michigan, Kahne has one win, seven top-five finishes, nine top-10s and has led 63 laps at the two-mile oval. He has started from the pole position twice and won from the top starting spot in June 2006. Kahne most recently rallied from a 31st starting position to finish seventh at the Irish Hills track in August 2013.
MICHIGAN LOOP DATA: According to NASCAR loop data from the last 18 races at Michigan, Kahne ranks fifth in both fastest drivers early in a run (179.526 mph) and green-flag passes (1,340). He also ranks sixth in the following categories: fastest laps run (170), green-flag speed (177.130 mph) and speed in traffic (176.186 mph). Kahne is eighth in fastest drivers late in a run (175.538 mph), ninth in fastest on restarts (173.654 mph), ninth for quality passes with 665 and 10th in laps in top 15 (2,033).
SPEEDWAY STATS: In 111 starts on tracks two miles or longer, Kahne has posted 24 top-five finishes and 43 top-10s. In addition, he has collected four of his 16 career Cup wins and six of his 26 pole positions at these tracks. Kahne has won at both of the Cup circuit’s two-mile tracks, finding Victory Lane at Michigan and the Fontana, California, oval in 2006.
MICHIGAN CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Kenny Francis has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-863 for Sunday’s race at Michigan. Kahne first drove this chassis to an 11th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in April and most recently raced it last month at Charlotte (North Carolina) Motor Speedway, where he started third and finished 14th.
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: “We just actually got through (Turns) 1 and 2 really good on that last run I was out. I think I overshot (Turn) 3, which I had to lift all the way out and gave up too much speed getting back to the throttle. So I would say I got through 1 and 2 so well that I thought there was a lot in 3 and there wasn’t. So I ended up pushing the car and making it a little too tight and we lost a little bit with our Farmers Insurance Chevy. But there is still a lot of speed in the car. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and working on it and getting prepared for the race on Sunday. It’s a pretty good track and we should run really well here. Our engines and cars are really strong.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS
POINTS LEADER: On Sunday at Pocono (Pennsylvania) Raceway, Jeff Gordon piloted the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS to an eighth-place finish. With that result, Gordon moved back into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead.
TOP-10 AVERAGE FINISH: Gordon is the only driver to have a top-10 average finishing position (9.4) through the first 14 races of the 2014 season.
10 TOP-10s: Through 14 races in 2014, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has posted 10 top-10s. Gordon is tied with Matt Kenseth for the Series lead in that statistical category.
AT MICHIGAN: The 42-year-old driver has two wins (1998 and 2001) in 42 Cup starts at Michigan. Gordon’s five pole positions, 18 top-five finishes and 25 top-10s are tops among active drivers at the Irish Hills track.
MILESTONE MICHIGAN VICTORY: On June 10, 2001, Gordon started from the pole position and finished first to give Hendrick Motorsports its 100th Cup win. It was his third of six victories during a year when Gordon won his fourth Series title.
CHASSIS CHOICE: No. 24 crew chief Alan Gustafson has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 24-861 for this Sunday’s race. This chassis has been raced three times previously with finishes of 13th at Fontana, seventh at Darlington (South Carolina) Raceway and seventh at Charlotte.
ON THIS WEEKEND'S NO. 24 CHEVY SS: “The car is just really solid. I’m really proud of all the guys and all the hard work they’ve put in as well as the engine shop. At a place like this, the only way that Drive to End Hunger Chevy SS is getting around here that fast is that you’ve got to have a lot of power under the hood. The engineers are doing a great job with the bodies and getting the cars through the corners as well. It’s been a fun day. I struggled here last year and boy, these last two weeks have just been phenomenal qualifying sessions and cars for us. You’ve got to take your hat off to (Kevin) Harvick and those guys. They are just superfast, especially when it comes to qualifying. We gave it a great effort but not quite enough to get those guys. But we’ll certainly take this second place and take it into Sunday with a lot of momentum and a lot of excitement.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS
SEASON-TO-DATE: After 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, Johnson owns the highest driver rating with a score of 108.5. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS also holds the honor of the most laps led this season with 968. Johnson’s top-six performance at Pocono last weekend allowed him to maintain his fourth-place ranking in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. He trails leader and teammate Jeff Gordon by 23 points.
AT MICHIGAN: In 24 starts at Michigan, Johnson has four top-five finishes, nine top-10s and has led 586 laps around the two-mile track. He is the only active driver in the Sprint Cup Series to have a career average starting position (8.9) inside the top 10 at the two-mile oval.
MICHIGAN LOOP DATA: Johnson leads active drivers in several loop data categories in the last 18 races at Michigan, including laps led (505), fastest laps (357) and average start (7.8). Johnson also has the fourth-highest driver rating at Michigan with a score of 101.4 in the past 18 races at two-mile oval. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. The driver rating number is used pre-race as a prediction tool and post-race as a performance evaluator.
CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Chad Knaus has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 48-797 for this weekend’s 400-mile race. Johnson last drove this chassis to Victory Lane in May’s 600-mile event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The backup car is Chassis No. 48-728, which Johnson most recently raced in March at Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/SUPERMAN CHEVROLET SS
POCONO RECAP: Last weekend at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr., powered his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS to his 21st career victory and second win of the 2014 season. This was Earnhardt’s first win at the 2.5-mile Pennsylvania track.
SO FAR THIS YEAR: Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Superman Chevrolet SS, has recorded two wins, seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s in the first 14 Cup events this year. His seven top-five results rank him first overall among drivers during that timeframe.
SUPERMAN CAR: Superman, the world’s first and most recognized Super Hero, will be featured again on Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet SS this weekend at Michigan. He also ran this paint scheme at the 600-mile race at Charlotte in May. The Superman-themed paint scheme will pair the Army National Guard with the Superman Hall of Heroes, a new online gift-giving portal that empowers consumers to honor their personal heroes; those who have made a positive impact on their lives or the lives of others. Visit www.supermanhallofheroes.com for more information.
MICHIGAN POLES: Earnhardt's two career pole positions at Michigan are tied for first as career-bests for the 39-year-old driver. He also has captured two career poles at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.
AT MICHIGAN: In 29 Cup starts at Michigan, Earnhardt has recorded two wins, two pole positions, six top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. He has completed 97.5 percent of all laps he's attempted (5,554 laps of 5,695 total) and led 347 laps at the two-mile oval.
MICHIGAN WIN: Earnhardt’s victory at Michigan on June 17, 2012, was his second win in a points-paying event for Hendrick Motorsports. After starting from the 17th position, Earnhardt led 95 laps at the Irish Hills track, stretching out his lead to 5.393 seconds before taking the checkered flag.
CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend, crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 crew unloaded Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-882. Earnhardt premiered this chassis in the 600-mile event at Charlotte last month.
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: "I’m real happy with the qualifying effort obviously, especially in the transition from the second round, to the last round. We're making some good gains on how we need to adjust the car to find the balance we need as continue to cycle the tires each qualifying run. That is something we really needed to improve our qualifying efforts. The car has real good speed. The car is pretty comfortable. Both cars - the Nationwide car and the Cup car - seem to be very competitive. We'll get a chance tomorrow to really work on our race trim package for the Cup car tomorrow. We ran a little bit of race trim this morning. The track wasn't ideal, but we understand some balance things we need to work on, and some things we can do to ease the work load tomorrow. So that's good. We'll see how the car feels in practice, and how confident we are. That determines how we will start the race, and how well we can do Sunday."