AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 Axalta team did all they could do.
Gordon took home a second-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway and looked to have a spot in the championship locked up, but at the last possible moment, he was knocked out due to points.
Ultimately it was out of his control, as a fellow Chase driver made contact with another competitor on the final lap, which allowed him to pick up a crucial position and knock Gordon to fifth place in the standings – making him the first driver eliminated.
“It’s disappointing,” Gordon said. “We’ve got a lot to hold our heads up high about – the way that we raced this race, the whole Chase and the whole season. We raced hard, we raced together as a team.”
Gordon did all he could to win the race and earn and automatic championship berth, but Kevin Harvick, who led a race-high 264 laps, was too strong Sunday.
“Harvick was in another zip code – there was nobody that was going to get him today, but we did a great job finishing second,” Gordon said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this Axalta Chevrolet team.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined Gordon in the top 10 with an eighth-place finish, and Kasey Kahne finished 21st. Jimmie Johnson made hard contact with the wall late in the race and headed to the garage. He was ultimately scored 39th.
Below is an in-depth look at how the race unfolded for all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
Chase Standings: 15th
Recap: Kahne began the race Sunday from the 22nd position, and 25 laps in he had fallen back to 25th. But then he began systematically moving his way up the field, cracking the top 20 by Lap 61. Thanks to quick pit stops by the No. 5 Farmers Insurance crew, Kahne continued picking up spots through a series of caution flags. By Lap 139 he was all the way up to 11th. He was back as far as 16th for a restart at Lap 191, but continued battling and once again found himself in 11th for a restart with 91 laps to go. He began to fall back in the pack, however, and with 38 to go he was back in 15th. He raced hard and got up to 13th for a restart with 20 laps to go, but ultimately finished 21st.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS
Chase Standings: 5th
Recap: Gordon entered Sunday’s race one point “to the good” in the Chase standings, and rolled off the grid seventh. By Lap 7 he had fallen back to ninth and reported that he was battling the handling of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet SS. “We’ll get you fixed up,” crew chief Alan Gustafson told him over the radio. “Track’s going to change. Long way to go.” When the first caution flag waved at Lap 30, Gordon gained a spot on pit road and moved up another position when a competitor ahead of him headed back to pit road. He restarted seventh, and at Lap 63 he cracked the top five for the first time. At the next caution at Lap 80, Gordon took two tires on pit road and restarted third, but found it difficult to hold off cars with four fresh tires. When another caution flag waved on Lap 95, Gordon went back to pit road for fresh tires and restarted 20th. But he didn’t stay back there for long, gaining five spots in 12 laps. A speedy pit stop during the next caution put Gordon in 10th for the restart, and at Lap 164 he was all the way back into the top five. Through a series of cautions, Gordon’s position fluctuated but remained in the top 10, and with 91 laps to go he restarted seventh. He moved up to fifth at Lap 224, at which point all eight Chase drivers were running in the top 13. When the caution flag waved when Johnson hit the wall, Gordon headed to pit road for two tires and moved up to second for the ensuing restart. That is where he stayed for the remainder of the race, surviving two more cautions – there were a track record 12 on Sunday – to finish second. But on the last lap, a fellow Chase driver made contact with another competitor to pick up a crucial position and knock Gordon out of the championship round.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S PATRIOTIC CHEVROLET SS
Chase Standings: 13th
Recap: A 15th-place start for Johnson didn’t last long, as he picked up three spots on one lap, finding his way to 12th on Lap 5. He picked up another spot two laps later, but reported that the No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet SS was tight through the center and loose off Turns 3 and 4. He made slight contact on pit road during the first caution, but still cracked the top 10 at Lap 50. During the next two cautions, however, he was forced to make two trips to pit road to continue to repair damage. The left him running in the 20s, moving up to 21st by Lap 137. He was in 18th at Lap 150, and made up two more positions in the next 30 laps. He eventually fell a lap down, however, running in 23rd. Just after a restart with 100 laps to go, Johnson narrowly avoided an incident that happened just in front of him to force another caution, which allowed him to get a free pass as the first car a lap down. With 91 laps to go, he took the restart in 21st as the last car on the lead lap, and continued to maintain that position until he encountered trouble on Lap 236 and made contact with the wall. He reported that he had no brakes going into the corner and headed to the garage. He was ultimately scored with a 39th-place finish.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 KELLEY BLUE BOOK CHEVROLET SS
Chase Standings: 10th
Recap: Earnhardt took the green flag one spot behind his teammate Johnson in 16th place. Just like Johnson, Earnhardt picked up three spots on one lap, moving up to 13th on Lap 5. He picked up one more spot two laps later, and by Lap 58 he had cracked the top 10. When a caution flag waved at Lap 80, the No. 88 crew elected for two tires on pit road, allowing Earnhardt to lead the field to the green flag in first place for the restart. But he was not able to hold off cars with four fresh tires, and was running 13th when the next caution flag waved. He went back to pit road for fresh tires and restarted 22nd on Lap 100. He quickly gained position, however, moving up to 14th within 19 laps. He was inside the top 10, running ninth at Lap 150. He continued to stay at or near the top 10 for the next stretch of the race, and after a string of cautions, he restarted in eighth with 91 laps to go. At Lap 224 he was up to sixth. With 60 laps to go, Earnhardt was in fifth, but he headed to pit road during a caution with 25 laps to go for fresh tires, which cost him track position. He restarted 11th with 20 laps to go and ultimately finished eighth.