Hendrick Motorsports drivers finish in top seven at Sonoma
By Jessica Ruffin
SONOMA, Calif. – With eight laps to go, Jeff Gordon moved into the runner-up position in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Sonoma (California) Raceway. The five-time Sonoma winner fought hard for the lead, but was unable to make the pass on the final lap and finished second at the California track. Gordon remains the leader in wins, top-five finishes and top 10s at the serpentine track.
Although Gordon didn’t take the checkered flag on Sunday, Sonoma was good to the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, as they all finished in the top seven. Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined Gordon in the top three, as Kahne and Johnson finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
With two top-five finishes this weekend and four top-10s, Hendrick Motorsports remains the leader in both of those statistical categories at Sonoma, along with poles (nine), wins (six) and laps led (593).
Here is a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports fared in the California road course:
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 GREAT CLIPS CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: Sixth
RECAP: After qualifying 30th at the 1.99-mile track, Kasey Kahne began Sunday’s race with plenty of momentum, propelling his No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS 10 positions by Lap 14. Kahne continued to make his way through the field and was running seventh by Lap 35. He ran into slight trouble at Lap 38, when he was bumped by a competitor from behind. Nevertheless, five laps later, the 2009 Sonoma winner had cracked the top five. As the race unfolded, Kahne continued to move through the field as he cycled through pit stops. With 30 laps to go, he moved into the 15th position and by Lap 86, he was running eighth. After making a late-race yellow-flag pit stop, Kahne fell to the back of the field briefly, but fought his way back into the top 10 with 10 laps to go. He finished sixth at the California track.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PANASONIC CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: Second
RECAP: Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid 15th on Sunday and immediately began his forward march. By Lap 15, the driver of the No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS had cracked the top 10. By Lap 38, Gordon had joined his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson in the top five. The five-time Sonoma winner briefly took the lead at the halfway point before coming onto pit road for his scheduled green-flag stop. Gordon made his way back to the front and moved into the top three again prior to the caution at Lap 71. He continued to race in the top 10 and moved into the runner-up position with eight laps to go, where he ultimately finished.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: Seventh
RECAP: Beginning from the 22nd position, Jimmie Johnson quickly propelled his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS five positions in just five laps and then cracked the top 10 by Lap 15. He continued to showcase the speed of his No. 48 Chevy SS, moving into the top three by Lap 39. Strategy was the key to success for the No. 48 team, as crew chief Chad Knaus’ early pit stop at Lap 53 allowed Johnson to have fresher tires than the competition. His fresh tires allowed him to move into the runner-up position by Lap 69 before ultimately seizing the lead two laps later. Johnson made his final pit stop at Lap 73 under caution and began his forward march to the front, as the end of the race drew closer. He made his way back to the top three and continued to race inside the top 10 for the remainder of the race. He finished seventh at the 1.99-mile track.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 KELLEY BLUE BOOK CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: Third
RECAP: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet SS showed plenty of speed from the drop of the green flag on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. After starting from the 17th position, Earnhardt maneuvered through the field to crack the top 10 by Lap 24. Quiet on the radio, Earnhardt continued to navigate around the curves of the California track with ease, moving into the runner-up position by Lap 36. However, as the race unfolded, the road course began to wear on Earnhardt’s rear tires. Letarte called him onto pit road early at Lap 54, electing for fresh tires and fuel. Earnhardt began his journey back to the front and by Lap 70, he was back in the top 10. At Lap 92, Letarte made the call to pit for fresh tires, which gave Earnhardt the speed he needed to collect his first career top-three finish at Sonoma.