SONOMA, Calif. – Jeff Gordon recovered from an early race penalty on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway to record runner-up honors in the first road course event of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. With 302 career top-five finishes, Gordon now moves into sole possession of third on that all-time list.
On Sunday, Gordon was joined inside the top 12 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne (sixth), Jimmie Johnson (ninth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12th), all of whom overcame relatively deep starting spots for the West Coast race.
Here is the recap by team.
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Sixth.
Recap: Kasey Kahne lined up 15th for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Sonoma Raceway, the first road course race of the 2013 season. He held that position and told crew chief Kenny Francis that he liked his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS. The feedback prompted Francis to keep Kahne on-track when the caution flag was waved on Lap 6. Kahne improved one spot to run 14th by the time the caution flag was waved for rainfall on Lap 23. During the yellow-flag period, the No. 5 team addressed a loose-handling condition Kahne had reported previously on Turn 2. He lined up 16th for the Lap 30 restart with four fresh tires, fuel as well as air pressure and wedge adjustments. The caution flag waved again one lap later, and this time Kahne opted to remain on-track, which put Kahne in the fifth position for the restart on Lap 33. Within two circuits, Kahne was running second. He remained inside the top three by the halfway point and took advantage of a Lap 68 caution period for a fuel-only stop. Pit strategy remained a focal point for teams, and Kahne’s restart position wavered from 20th to inside the top 10 as the race wound down. With 10 laps left in Sunday’s race, Kahne was running eighth and fighting for an extra spot. He picked up two spots to finish sixth.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Second.
Recap: Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS, was the top qualifier among his Hendrick Motorsports teammates and rolled off the grid 10th on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. A nine-time road course winner, Gordon listened to advice from spotter Eddie D’Hondt and found some extra speed in Turn 11. Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson opted to pit right as the rain was picking up, but unfortunately hit pit road right as NASCAR officials waved the yellow flag. As a result, Gordon was penalized for pitting before pit road was open and had to report to the tail end of the longest line for the restart. Gordon was set to line up 36th, but ultimately restarted 39th on Lap 29 after topping off on fuel several times during the caution period. Starting deep in the field didn’t bother Gordon, who survived two ensuing caution periods to run 26th by Lap 40. Gordon and Gustafson worked on the handling of the No. 24 Chevy SS and used pit strategy to get Gordon into the top two by Lap 77. Two laps later, Gordon led the field for four circuits before the caution flag was waved. As the race wound down, Gordon remained inside the top 15, but climbed to third with 10 laps left. Gordon was clocking lap times faster than then-second-place Juan Pablo Montoya and continued to try and close the gap for his 10th road course trophy. Gordon slid past Montoya, but couldn’t reach the leader and finished second, recording his eighth straight top-10 result at Sonoma.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Ninth.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson started Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Sonoma Raceway from the 19th position and posted what crew chief Chad Knaus called “decent” lap times to improve three spots within the first six circuits. Johnson continued to make his march forward, climbing to 12th by Lap 20. Knaus complimented Johnson on his progress, and told the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS to save his rear tires as much as possible. Twenty-two laps and two caution periods later, Johnson was running eighth. On Lap 49, fuel strategy became a factor, and Knaus encouraged Johnson, running sixth at the time, to start saving just a bit. Saving fuel didn’t mean slowing down, though, and Johnson cracked the top five in five circuits. Johnson improved to second on Lap 61 during green-flag stops, but the positioning was fortuitous for the driver of the No. 48 Chevy SS, as the caution flag was waved one lap later. The caution flag gave teams an opportunity to reset the pit strategy, and Knaus called for four tires, fuel and chassis adjustments. Johnson restarted 12th and weathered a series of cautions to restart 16th after a yellow-flag period on Lap 85. Johnson charged through the field, improving to 10th by Lap 92 and was chasing teammate Jeff Gordon for eighth two laps later. Traffic made navigating the road course difficult, and Johnson took care to protect the No. 48 Chevy SS while maintaining position inside the top 15. With five laps to go, Johnson was holding on in the 12th spot. He crossed the finish line ninth to record his fifth straight top-10 result at Sonoma.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 12th.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled off the grid 26th on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, but improved eight spots by Lap 6 when the first caution flag was waved. Crew chief Steve Letarte opted to keep Earnhardt on-track during this yellow-flag period, and Earnhardt quietly drove the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS to 15th by Lap 21. Earnhardt initially liked the handling of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS and worked with Letarte during the ensuing laps on various pit strategy to restart eighth for the Lap 33 restart. The duo continued to use pit strategy to improve Earnhardt’s position, and when the caution flag waved 34 laps later, the driver of the No. 88 Chevy SS opted against pitting and moved into the second position. Earnhardt chased leader Joey Logano at the drop of the green flag with teammate Jeff Gordon in his rear-view mirror. Earnhardt slipped into third when the yellow flag was waved again 10 laps later. During this caution period, Letarte called for four tires and fuel for the No. 88 Chevy SS. Back on the track, Earnhardt encountered a spin in Turn 7 that forced him to navigate the course on the dirt rather than the paved track. He held on and saved the No. 88 Chevy SS to remain inside the top 18. With three laps to go, Earnhardt had climbed back into the top 13. He crossed the finish line 12th.