Earnhardt, Kahne finish in the top 11 at New Hampshire
By Jessica Ruffin
LOUDON, N.H – After taking the green flag from mid field, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied to finish 10th in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He was immediately followed by teammate Kasey Kahne, who recorded an 11th-place result at the 1.058-mile track. With his top-10 finish this week, Earnhardt only needs to qualify for the next seven races to officially become a member of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup class.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson weren’t as fortunate; Gordon ran out of fuel prior to a green-and-white-checkered attempt and Johnson was sidelined early by a blown tire. As a result, Gordon recorded a 26th-place result, while Johnson was scored 42nd.
With nine victories, Hendrick Motorsports remains the leader in wins at New Hampshire among NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. The organization also has 40 top-five finishes and 65 top-10s at the 1.058-mile oval.
Here’s a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared at “The Granite State” track:
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 GREAT CLIPS/SHARK WEEK CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Kasey Kahne began Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event from the 10th position and immediately began his march to the front. By Lap 22, the driver of the No. 5 Great Clips/Shark Week Chevrolet SS had cracked the top five. He ran into slight issues around Lap 60, battling lapped traffic and a tight race car. Crew chief Kenny Francis called Kahne to pit road at Lap 75 to fix the handling issue, which freed up his No. 5 Chevy SS. By Lap 83, Kahne was running eighth, saying that his car’s handling had improved since the pit stop. Kahne continued to race in the top eight for the next 30 laps before making a yellow-flag pit stop at Lap 113. As the race unfolded, Kahne moved back and forth through the field, ultimately making his way back into the top five with the help of a quick two-tire pit stop at Lap 213. Kahne raced in the top 12 for the remainder of the race and finished 11th at the 1.058-mile track.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Jeff Gordon started Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at New Hampshire with plenty of momentum. After qualifying 11th, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS began to climb through the field and was running sixth by Lap 36. Shortly after, Gordon began to experience a handling condition, which caused him to ultimately fall back to the 26th position. Crew chief Alan Gustafson analyzed the situation and discovered the root of the problem; a right-rear tire going flat. He freed up Gordon’s No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS in hopes that it would help Gordon get back on the lead lap. Gustafson’s adjustments – in combination with strategy and a little luck – allowed Gordon to make strides in the right direction. He opted to take the wave around at Lap 113, which allowed him to get back on the lead lap. When the caution flag was waved at Lap 211, Gordon had cracked the top 10 and five laps later, he was positioned in the top three. He elected to stay out of a cycle of yellow-flag pit stops with 51 laps to go, which allowed him to take the lead for the first time that day at Lap 252. Gordon paced the field for 18 laps before losing the lead with 31 laps to go. When the caution flag was waved with three laps to go, Gordon was forced to gamble with the little amount of fuel left in his Chevy SS. He was preparing to line up second for the green-and-white-checkered attempt when he ran out of fuel at Lap 302. As a result, he recorded a 26th-place result at “The Granite State” track.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: After seizing the outside pole position during Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session, Jimmie Johnson lined up his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS second for 301 laps at New Hampshire. Unfortunately for the No. 48 team, Johnson’s run was cut short when he encountered a left-rear flat tire at Lap 8 that further damaged his race car five laps later. Unable to return to competition, Johnson was scored with a 42nd-place finish at the 1.058-mile track.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a long road ahead of him, as he lined up his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS 28th for Sunday’s 301-lap event. Undeterred, Earnhardt wasted no time at the 1.058-mile track, jumping 15 positions in 23 laps and cracking the top 10 just 22 laps later. Earnhardt continued to progressively move through the field and was riding in the seventh position at Lap 121. An efficient pit stop at Lap 154 allowed Earnhardt to line up his No. 88 Chevy SS fifth at Lap 157, which allowed him to crack the top three after an aggressive restart. For the remainder of the race, the two-time race winner this season ran inside the top 10 and finished finished 10th at the New England track.