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Qualifying report from Sonoma Raceway

Qualifying report from Sonoma Raceway

SONOMA, Calif.– Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon showed plenty of speed during Friday's final NASCAR Sprint Cup practice session at Sonoma (California) Raceway, posting the fifth and ninth-fastest times, respectively. However, Earnhardt, Gordon and their Hendrick Motorsports teammates weren't quite as fortunate and qualified outside the top 12 in Saturday's knockout qualifying session. 

Gordon will start Sunday's race from the 15th position, while Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson will roll off the grid 17th and 22nd, respectively. Kasey Kahne qualified 30th at the California road course. 

This weekend at Sonoma Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports will be chasing its sixth consecutive win this season, a NASCAR modern era (1972-present) record set by the organization itself in 2007.  During that year, the Hendrick Motorsports teams combined to post separate win streaks of four, five and six races apiece, which ultimately led to Johnson winning the 2007 Cup championship.

In 86 starts at Sonoma, Hendrick Motorsports leads the competition with six victories, nine pole positions, 28 top-five finishes, 42 top-10s and 589 laps led. Gordon owns five of the organization’s wins there, while Johnson most recently took the checkered flag at the 1.99-mile track in June 2010.

Here is a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports teams have fared at the California road course.

MICHIGAN RECAP: Kahne finished fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Michigan International Speedway on June 15. This result marked his second top-five finish of the season and his fifth top 10. Kahne now ranks 19th in the point standings.
SEASON-TO-DATE: In 15 Sprint Cup Series races this season, Kahne ranks both eighth for fastest speed in traffic with an average running position of 11.467 and in quality passes (911). He also ranks ninth in the following categories: fastest laps run (124), fastest drivers early in a run (11.273) and closers (18 positions improved in the last 10 percent of each race). In addition, Kahne is both 10th in green-flag speed (11.545) and in the driver ratings (85.8).
GREAT CLIPS: Great Clips will adorn the hood of Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet SS this weekend at Sonoma Raceway and will serve as the primary sponsor on the car for seven more Sprint Cup Series events this year: Kentucky Speedway on June 28, New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 17, Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 23, Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 26, Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 2 and Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.
KAHNE AT SONOMA: In 10 Sprint Cup starts at Sonoma, Kahne has one win, two top-five finishes, three top-10s and has completed 98.2 percent of all laps attempted at the track (1,087 of 1,107 total). The driver of the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS has started in the top 10 six times in his last eight races at the 1.99-mile road course, including two pole positions in 2008 and 2010. Kahne visited Sonoma’s Victory Lane in June 2009, when he started from the fifth position and led 37 laps en route to his sole career victory at the California track.
SONOMA LOOP DATA: According to NASCAR loop data during the last nine races at Sonoma, Kahne ranks seventh-fastest on restarts (86.694 mph), eighth in laps in top 15 (552), ninth in fastest laps run (32), ninth in quality passes (210) and 10th in laps led (41 total).
SONOMA CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Kenny Francis has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-876 for Sunday’s race at Sonoma. This is a brand new chassis that has never been raced before.
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: “The biggest thing is in Turn 4 when I come off the curb and land off the curb, I had to just stop and wait for the car; it just wants to run right into that wall. So, I’d just have to wait and then pick the throttle up down the road a little bit. So we gave up a lot of time right there. And then all the corners were just a touch snug. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll have really good forward drive in this Great Clips Chevrolet SS. That’s going to be huge. I’d say we’ll be putting on more tires and wearing tires out quicker here this weekend than what I can remember in the past. Hopefully our car will play into our favor tomorrow and we can have a good run.”

POINTS LEADER: On Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon finished sixth to remain atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. His 11 top-10s in 2014 are a Series-best.
TOP-10 AVERAGE FINISH: Gordon is the only driver to have a top-10 average finishing position (9.1) through the first 15 races of the 2014 season.
PANASONIC ON NO. 24 CHEVY SS: Panasonic will be featured as a primary sponsor of the No. 24 team in two Sprint Cup races annually and as an associate-level partner in all other events. It will mark the first on-car branding for Panasonic since joining Hendrick Motorsports as a technology partner in 2007. Gordon’s No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS will debut this weekend at Sonoma and will again appear Aug. 31 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Panasonic’s Toughbook brand will be featured on the car’s quarter panels at Sonoma.
FIRST AT SONOMA: The native of Vallejo, California, tops the following statistical categories at the serpentine track: wins (five), poles (five), top-five finishes (13), top-10s (17), laps led (454) and average finish (8.2).
KING OF THE ROAD: Gordon is the all-time leader in NASCAR road course victories with nine. Along with five wins at Sonoma, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has visited Victory Lane four times at Watkins Glen International in New York.
SONOMA CHASSIS: No. 24 crew chief Alan Gustafson has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 24-878 for this Sunday’s race. This is a new chassis that has not been raced.
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: “On some of the things, you’ve just got to be aggressive and hope that it sticks and right away, the nose started moving around on me. I knew from that point to just not overdrive it. I made one mistake off of (Turn) 4 and I think ultimately that cost us enough to just make it through. The question and concern for us is how all these guys went out the second time and went so much faster. I thought I put together a pretty good lap that second time; I did get loose coming out of the esses, which is not a good place to do it. And we didn’t have enough to make it through. So, we’ll just get it ready to race. I’m excited to have Panasonic onboard this weekend and we’ve got a great race car. But we certainly needed to have a faster car for qualifying. But with the tires the way they are, I think that track position is not going to be nearly as important as it has been in the past.”

MICHIGAN RECAP: Last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, Johnson led 39 laps en route to his first career win at the Irish Hills track. The victory marked Johnson’s third win of the season and 69th career win overall.
SEASON-TO-DATE: After 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, Johnson owns the highest driver rating with a score of 110.0. With the win, Johnson now ranks second in the Chase grid, behind leader and teammate Jeff Gordon. He remains the leader for the most laps led this season with 1,007.
AT SONOMA: In 12 starts at Sonoma, Johnson has one win, four top-five finishes and seven top-10s. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS has led 85 circuits around the 1.99-mile track. Johnson also has the fifth-highest driver rating at Sonoma with a score of 97.3 in the past nine races. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, and 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. 48-875, which is a brand new car. The backup car is Chassis No. 48-801, which Johnson most recently raced in last season at Watkins Glen International.
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: “It was sixth-tenths faster than I had gone, so it felt plenty fast. Looking back, a lot of it probably went just me having the right flow and knowing where I can charge. Then you end up out there on warmer tires and scuffed tires, and the grip level changes so fast, you really want to get it on that first lap. We are just focused on the race tomorrow, and hopefully that pays off and get ourselves a nice finish here tomorrow.”

POINTS AFTER MICHIGAN: After finishing seventh at Michigan International Speedway on June 15, Earnhardt ranks third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. He trails leader and teammate Jeff Gordon by 23 points.
SEASON-TO-DATE STATS: In the first 15 Cup events of 2014, Earnhardt has scored two wins, seven top-five finishes, 10 top-10s and led 202 laps. The driver of the No. 88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet SS is tied with one other driver for most top-five results this season.
KELLEY BLUE BOOK: Kelley Blue Book, the vehicle valuation and information source trusted and relied upon by both consumers and the automotive industry, will adorn the hood of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet SS this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.
EARNHARDT AT SONOMA: In 14 Sprint Cup starts at Sonoma Raceway, Earnhardt has posted six top-15 finishes and completed 94.3 percent of all the laps he's attempted (1,463 laps of 1,551 total). He has scored a career-best 11th-place finish three times at the 1.99-mile road course and last recorded this result in 2010. Earnhardt most recently rallied from a 26th starting position to finish 12th at the California track in June 2013.
CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend, crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team unloaded Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-747. Earnhardt most recently raced this chassis at Watkins Glen International in August 2013.
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: “We had a good lap going, but the No. 66 run in the racing groove on his get up (to speed) lap and didn’t get out of the way. We missed the top 12. We would have made it. We ran about a tenths slower than our best lap going around him on the outside of Turn 9. That is real disappointing, but the car has been great. Hopefully, we will be able to have a good run Sunday starting kind of mid-pack. It’s going to be a little busy where we are going to be, but hopefully we can move forward.”