AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. helped Hendrick Motorsports achieve another NASCAR Sprint Cup milestone on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. The teammates finished inside the top five to push the organization past 900 top-five finishes.
Kahne took runner-up honors, while Johnson finished third and Earnhardt crossed in fourth. Those three top-five finishes now give Hendrick Motorsports 901 top-fives. Jeff Gordon, who led 49 laps on Sunday, finished 14th.
Here is the recap by team:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Second.
Chase standings: 12th.
Recap: Kasey Kahne started seventh on Sunday at Phoenix and immediately encountered a loose-handling condition that cost him a couple spots on-track. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 50, Kahne hit pit road for right-side tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS was blocked attempting to exit his pit stall so he lined up ninth for the Lap 56 restart. Kahne utilized a subsequent pit stop during the Lap 100 caution period to pick up four spots and the lead for the Lap 105 restart. He paced the field for 19 circuits as the race unfolded and opted to hit pit road when the caution flag was waved on Lap 144 and then again on Lap 167. At this caution period, teams opted to use pit strategy so several stayed on-track, while others pitted. Kahne was among those who pitted both times and wound up restarting inside the top 20. By Lap 200, Kahne had rallied to line up on the outside of the front row for the restart. He slipped to third, but climbed back to second. With 83 laps to go and green-flag stops underway, Kahne was the new leader at the one-mile desert oval. During his green-flag stop on Lap 246, Kahne took right-side tires for the third time of the race, and after green-flag stops 50 laps later, he was back running second. Kahne was running third in the closing laps before passing an out-of-fuel Carl Edwards to take runner-up honors and improve to 12th in the championship standings.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 14th.
Chase standings: Sixth.
Recap: Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid seventh on Sunday at Phoenix and took advantage of contact among the leaders to move into second by the conclusion of the first lap. The driver of the No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS continued his charge and was battling for the lead by Lap 13. Six laps later, Gordon was leading at the one-mile desert oval. He paced the field for 33 laps before a tight-handling condition emerged. Gordon slipped to third and radioed crew chief Alan Gustafson under caution on Lap 100: "Just way too tight to start,” Gordon said. “Then I don't have any grip once we get going.” Gustafson chose four tires instead of the popular call for two during the stop, and Gordon restarted sixth for the Lap 105 restart. Gordon was back in sixth when the caution flag was waved on Lap 145, and this time, Gustafson instructed Gordon to remain on-track. Gordon inherited the No. 1 spot and chose to restart from the outside line. Despite being on older tires, Gordon took the lead. The No. 24 team decided to take advantage of a quick caution. He was among the few who did and restarted 19th. Gordon rallied to run sixth, and Gustafson asked him to save fuel. Gordon radioed that he was fine if he could run his own line, but blocking the competition affected the handling of his No. 24 Chevy SS. With 84 laps to go, Gordon improved to run fourth behind leader and teammate Kasey Kahne. A late-race caution flag was waved for debris, and Gordon did not pit. He lined up fifth for the restart but was shuffled back into the top 15 at the drop of the green flag. He improved to finish 14th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Third.
Chase standings: First.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson opened the 312-lap event at Phoenix International Raceway from the pole position and was collected almost immediately in an incident. Johnson coolly maneuvered his No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS through the contact although he did drop to sixth in the running order. Later, Johnson would tell crew chief Chad Knaus that a tight-handling condition also impacted his opening run. As the race unfolded, Johnson maintained his position inside the top 10. Knaus opted for four tires during the Lap 100 caution period, and Johnson lined up fifth for the Lap 105 restart. Johnson improved to run fourth before the yellow flag was waved on Lap 145. This time, Johnson was among a few drivers who chose to pit. The decision meant Johnson restarted 16th, and he nearly was collected again in an incident when the field restarted. Once again, Johnson held on, but was required to steer his No. 48 Chevy SS to pit road for fresh tires and fuel during the ensuing caution period. The call shuffled Johnson deeper in the field – to 24th – but he was running fifth by Lap 200. Johnson led one lap when green-flag stops began on Lap 245 and resumed to run inside the top five when they had cycled through completely. Johnson improved to finish third and hold onto his first-place ranking in the championship standings.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Fourth.
Chase standings: Fifth.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. started Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway from the 11th position and had climbed to fifth by Lap 44. Earnhardt radioed crew chief Steve Letarte that the rear grip on the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS was coming around and the No. 88 team opted to pit when the caution flag was waved on Lap 50. Letarte called for right-side tires and fuel, and Earnhardt maintained his fifth-place position when the field restarted on Lap 55. Unfortunately, Earnhardt’s run was affected by a loose wheel. He had to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 64 and returned to the track three laps down. Undaunted, Earnhardt and Letarte employed pit strategy to recover from the setback. Earnhardt was running 30th and back on the lead lap by Lap 135. Earnhardt resumed his forward march from that point on, again using pit strategy concocted by Letarte. With 44 laps to go, Earnhardt improved to take the lead during green-flag stops. Earnhardt pitted with 41 laps to go, and the No. 88 team delivered right-side tires and fuel. Earnhardt improved to finish fourth and record his fourth straight top-10 result.