RICHMOND, Va. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after taking 13th on Saturday at Richmond International Raceway. The driver of the No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS joins his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson, who previously secured spots in the 10-race postseason play.
With the points reseeded for the Chase, Johnson will start second with 2,012 points, while Earnhardt will rank ninth with 2,000 points. Kahne, a Wild Card entrant, also has 2,000 points, but will rank 11th for the Chase-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway next Sunday.
Jeff Gordon opened Saturday’s regular season-finale from the pole position, but missed making the Chase by one point after a late-race pit stop cost the No. 24 team track position.
Here are the Richmond results by team:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 14th.
Race recap: Kasey Kahne opened Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway from the 18th position and with a spot already guaranteed in the upcoming Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kahne, with two victories this season, had a least a Wild Card spot going into the 400-lap event at Richmond. On Saturday, Kahne cracked the top 10 by Lap 70. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS reported a lack of forward grip 13 circuits later and slipped to 11th. His team took advantage of two ensuring pit stops – one during green-flag conditions and a second during a Lap 135 caution period – to address the handling of the No. 5 Chevy SS. Kahne restarted 20th on Lap 141 and hovered around that position during the next 122 laps as his team continued to work on the car’s handling. By Lap 276, Kahne had improved to 15th and within 64 circuits, Kahne was running ninth. Misfortune struck for the driver of the No. 5 Chevy SS during a subsequent green-flag pit stop. Teammate Jimmie Johnson encountered an issue on-track and brought out the caution flag, which put Kahne and others a lap down. Kahne restarted 19th on Lap 351 and held on to finish 14th.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Eighth.
Race recap: Jeff Gordon led the first 49 laps on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway after starting the 400-lap event from the pole position, the 72nd of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. Gordon initially stretched out his lead to five car-lengths before a handling issue occurred that made the car loose off the corners and tight in the center of them. Gordon slipped in the running order to 10th, while crew chief Alan Gustafson prepared for adjustments during the ensuing green-flag pit stop. After taking the track bar down two rounds on a stop around Lap 90, the No. 24 team attempted once more to restore the handling of the Drive to End Hunger Chevy SS on a subsequent pit stop under caution on Lap 135. Gordon picked up three spots on pit road during the stop and improved to run eighth for the restart. Back on track, handling continued to be an issue for Gordon, who insisted the car was tight. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 207, Gordon stopped again for further adjustments. He restarted in 16th and improved one spot before reporting a vibration to his team. Gordon told Gustafson he had to hit pit road, and he made an unscheduled stop for four tires and fuel. Upon further inspection, it was determined Gordon had a loose front-right wheel. Gordon returned to the track running 25th to battle for the Lucky Dog position. Gordon improved to 22nd and was in the Lucky Dog position when the caution flag finally waved on Lap 266. He continued to fight for track position, but slipped off the lead lap again as the race progressed. With around 50 laps to go, Gordon was making a scheduled green-flag pit stop when the caution flag was waved. He rolled through his stop, maintained his Lucky Dog status and returned to the lead lap. As a result, Gordon restarted 12th – the tail end of the lead-lap party. He cracked the top 10 with 36 laps to go and was running eighth six laps later. Gordon held steady in the closing laps, but made a pit stop under caution with four laps to go that cost him track position. Another competitor opted to stay on-track during the yellow-flag period, and Gordon missed making the Chase by one point. Gordon finished the Richmond event in eighth.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 40th.
Race recap: Jimmie Johnson started Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Richmond International Raceway from the rear of the field after missing qualifying due to the birth of his daughter. Green-flag conditions dominated the opening of the 400-lap event, yet Johnson climbed as high as 26th before a tight-handling condition arose on Lap 54. The tight handling and lack of lateral grip cost Johnson track position. He went down a lap 17 circuits later. On Lap 89, Johnson reported a soft right-front tire and made an unscheduled stop for four tires, fuel and further adjustments. During the green-flag stop, Johnson was clocked too fast exiting pit road and had to complete a pass-through penalty. As the race continued, the No. 48 team continued to tweak on the Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS, and Johnson kept fighting to make up ground. But the persistent green-flag conditions made that difficult, and misfortune struck again on Lap 220 when a 36th-running Johnson reported an electrical issue. With no power on either battery, he had to report to garage so his team could address the issue. The No. 48 team installed a new battery and sent Johnson back onto the track, where he continued to fight for position. He worked through a subsequent flat right-front tire and finished 40th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 13th.
Race recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 14th on Saturday at Richmond International Raceway and quietly improved a spot within the first five circuits at the short track. A long green-flag run opened the 400-lap event, and Earnhardt settled in to run 14th by Lap 102 when the field cycled through green-flag stops. He reported to crew chief Steve Letarte that the car was a bit too comfortable and too tight. When the caution flag waved on Lap 135, Earnhardt was running 15th and stopped for four tires and fuel as well as chassis and air pressure adjustments. A swift stop netted the No. 88 team two spots on pit road, and Earnhardt returned to the track running 13th on Lap 141. As the race unfolded, Earnhardt steadily continued his bid for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Going into Saturday’s race, Earnhardt had to accomplish one of the following scenarios: a finish of 32nd or better; a finish of 33rd with at least one lap led; or a finish of 34th with the most laps led. He seemed headed that way as laps ticked down under mostly green-flag conditions. Earnhardt improved to run 12th on Lap 327 and was making a scheduled green-flag pit stop when the caution flag was waved with about 50 laps to go. He restarted 17th on Lap 351 and held on to finish seventh.