FONTANA, Calif. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame an early tire issue to finish 12th on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. Earnhardt was joined inside the top 15 by teammate Jeff Gordon, who appeared to be rolling toward the win with three laps to go. A late-race caution flag and a subsequent four-tire pit stop changed that for the No. 24 team.
Their Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson led a race-high 104 laps, but encountered a late-race tire issue that translated into a 24th-place result. Kasey Kahne finished 41st after spending some time Sunday in the garage.
Here is a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports teammates fared on Sunday:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 41st.
Recap: Kasey Kahne lined up 26th in his No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS and climbed to 16th within the opening 14 laps. He told crew chief Kenny Francis that his No. 5 Chevy SS needed more rear grip, and the No. 5 team provided that during a Lap 19 pit stop under caution. Kahne lined up 12th for the ensuing restart and improved to ninth within five circuits. By Lap 50, Kahne had picked up another spot and was running eighth at the two-mile oval. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 57, Kahne reported that the handling had tightened somewhat in the corners, but was fine on the exit of the turns. Francis called Kahne down pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to further help the handling. Kahne was running 11th at the halfway point, and at Lap 101, he made his way to the garage so his team could address an issue. Kahne returned to the race with roughly 75 laps to go. He was running 41st, and that’s where he finished when the checkered flag was waved.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 13th.
Recap: Jeff Gordon lined up sixth for Sunday’s 200-lap event at Auto Club Speedway and ran as high as second before the first caution flag was waved on Lap 19. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS reported mild handling issues and stopped on pit road for four tires, fuel and slight adjustments. During that first stop, Gordon was clocked too fast on pit road and was required to restart from the rear of the field. Unfazed, Gordon apologized to his team and started his forward march. He climbed from 41st to 13th by Lap 42 and cracked the top 10 nine laps later. An ill-timed caution light, however, forced Gordon to make his pit stop off-sequence with the leaders. Gordon stopped on the next circuit and returned to line up 35th for the restart. Once again he began his forward march. Team owner Rick Hendrick radioed to Gordon, “You’ve passed more cars than anybody out here today.” Gordon replied, “I wish we got points for that, boss.” Instead of points, Gordon got momentum, and he cracked the top 10 during the Lap 74 restart when he climbed 10 positions. By Lap 105, Gordon took the lead away from teammate Jimmie Johnson and paced the field for 21 laps. Gordon spent the remainder of the race inside the top five and was battling Johnson for the lead yet again when the caution flag on Lap 142 stalled his run. Gordon joined the leaders on pit road for four tires, fuel and minor adjustments and resumed his charge for the lead. With 28 laps to go, Gordon lined up on the inside next to then-race leader Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports teammates battled briefly, till Johnson started to stretch out a lead. Gordon appeared poised for runner-up honors until Johnson blew a left-front tire with seven laps to go. Gordon patiently steered his car around the two-mile oval, but his run was stalled four laps later when NASCAR officials waved the caution flag. The No. 24 team opted for a four-tire, fuel pit stop prior to the green-white-checkered flag finish. Gordon lost five spots on pit road to teams that took two tires. He lined up eighth for the restart and slipped to 13th, which is where he finished Sunday’s race.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Spring Is Calling Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 24th.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson started third on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway and immediately was shuffled back several positions due to three and four wide racing. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Spring Is Calling Chevrolet SS reported a tight-handling condition early to crew chief Chad Knaus. The No. 48 team made adjustments and gave the car four tires and fuel during the Lap 19 caution period. Johnson inched his way forward after the restart and battled for the lead by Lap 34. “Nice and smooth,” Knaus encouraged Johnson, who held the second position when the caution flag was waved on Lap 43 for teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. During the caution period, Johnson stopped for four tires, minor adjustments and fuel before winning the race off pit road. Johnson led the field to the green flag and paced the field from Lap 48 for 25 laps throughout two more caution period. Johnson remained inside the top 10 as the race unfolded, leading 62 laps by the Lap 150 mark. He frequently found himself battling teammate Gordon for the lead and edged past Gordon for the lead off pit road with 30 laps to go. With 28 laps left, Johnson lined up next to Gordon and used a strong restart to take the lead. Johnson appeared poised for his sixth ACS victory until he sustained a flat left-front tire with seven laps to go. Johnson, who led a race-high 104 laps, made a pit stop for fresh tires and returned to finish 24th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 12th.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled off the grid 15th on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway and cracked the top 10 within five laps. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS remained inside the top 10 during the early part of the race and was running ninth when he sustained a flat left-front tire and made contact with the wall. Earnhardt reported to pit road where crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team addressed the damage. Earnhardt made three stops during the caution period and restarted 43rd and on the lead lap for the Lap 47 restart. By the halfway point, Earnhardt had climbed to sixth. Three circuits later, he reported that he felt another tire was going down. He made an unscheduled pit stop for fresh tires and resumed running one lap down to the leaders. By Lap 139, Earnhardt was running 20th. Earnhardt continued to work with Letarte, and with 25 laps left, the No. 88 Chevy SS was running inside the top 15. Earnhardt held on to finish 12th.