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Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finish inside top nine at Darlington

Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finish inside top nine at Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jeff Gordon started Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Darlington Raceway by making one milestone – his 700th career start – and ended the 367-lap event inching closer to another one. The driver of the No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet SS scored the third-place result on Saturday to record his 300th career top-five finish. He needs one more top-five result to match Hall of Famer David Pearson for third on the all-time list.

Gordon was joined inside the top 10 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson (fourth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ninth). Kasey Kahne finished 17th after a late-race incident dashed his grip on the lead.

Here is the race recap by team:

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 17th.
Standings: Sixth.
Recap: Kasey Kahne lined up fourth on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway and kept his No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS inside the top 10 for the majority of the race. He worked with crew chief Kenny Francis to address an early handling condition that varied from slightly tight to loose in the corners. The 367-lap event unfolded with one caution period – a Lap 124 pause for debris – and Kahne’s No. 5 team was spot-on with pit stops throughout the evening. The caution flag was waved twice more later in the race, for nearly back-to-back spins on Lap 302 and 309. After pitting for the first caution period and staying out during the second one, Kahne lined up third for the restart with 50 laps to go. He climbed to second within three circuits, chasing leader Kyle Busch and keeping an eye on teammate Jimmie Johnson in his rear-view mirror. Yet another caution flag gave Kahne another opportunity to take fresh tires and an extra splash of fuel. He left pit road and lined up next to Busch for the restart, which he immediately won. Kahne paced the field with Busch making up ground, and within a couple circuits, Busch appeared to have made contact with the left-rear of the No. 5 Chevy SS, sending Kahne into the wall. Kahne hit pit road during the ensuing caution period for fresh tires and returned to the track running 16th. He finished 17th.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Third.
Standings: 12th.
Recap: Jeff Gordon became the 16th driver to make his 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup start when he lined up sixth on Saturday at Darlington Raceway. The driver of the No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet SS vacillated between tight- and loose-handling conditions like his Hendrick Motorsports teammates as the 1.366-mile oval transitioned from the evening to nighttime conditions. Crew chief Alan Gustafson encouraged Gordon about his lap times, and Gordon kept the No. 24 Chevy SS within the top 10. After a quick caution period for debris on Lap 124, Gordon resumed control and maintained his position inside the top 10, improving to run fifth by Lap 151 and take the lead 35 laps later during green-flag pit stops. As the race unfolded, Gordon and Gustafson worked through various adjustment attempts, including more wedge and air pressure adjustments. A spin on Lap 302 brought out a late-race caution that gave Gordon the opportunity to make a much-needed pit stop – this time for a track bar adjustment. Gordon was running fifth at the time of the yellow flag and left sixth after a four-tire stop. He lined up sixth – one of 10 cars on the lead lap – for the restart. Gordon held steady and survived another three caution periods, including one that affected teammate Kasey Kahne, and lined up fourth for the restart with 30 laps to go. Gordon improved to run third with three laps to go and was battling for second when the white flag was waved. Gordon, a seven-time winner at Darlington – tops among active drivers – could not complete the pass and achieved the third-place result. Gordon now has 300 career top-five finishes and needs one more to match Hall of Famer David Pearson for third on the all-time list.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Fourth.
Standings: First.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson started from the outside pole position – the third of his career at Darlington Raceway – and maintained his spot in the top four within the first 45 laps. By Lap 90, he was running third and planned to run the top groove to see if that impacted his lap times. Johnson kept searching different lines and working with crew chief Chad Knaus on the handling of his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS. By the time the second round of green-flag stops concluded on Lap 186, Johnson was running second. Four laps later, Johnson reported that he felt like he was running on three wheels, but Knaus told a then-third-place Johnson that he was the second-fastest car on the track. “Keep digging,” Knaus radioed to Johnson, “We got some magic in here for ya.” Kyle Busch, then the leader, was the only car faster, so Johnson began his chase and overcame a loose-handling condition to improve to second by the time the caution flag waved on Lap 302 for a spin. Johnson made a stop for four tires and fuel before returning to line up second for the restart. At the drop of the green flag, Johnson chased Busch off the line and slipped into third within the first two green-flag circuits. Four laps later, the yellow flag waved once again for an incident on the front straightaway. Knaus brought Johnson down pit road for four more tires and fuel. Johnson lined up fifth for the restart with 50 laps to go and climbed to third within three circuits. During an ensuing stop, Johnson lost five spots on pit road while his team made an adjustment. He returned to line up eighth and improved to fifth with 23 laps to go. He picked up one more position and crossed the line fourth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Ninth.
Standings: Fourth.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 16th on Saturday night at Darlington and was running 10th within the first 44 laps. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS benefited from an early air pressure adjustment during a green-flag stop to continue his forward march into eighth by Lap 56. Crew chief Steve Letarte continually worked with Earnhardt to tinker the handling of the No. 88 Chevy SS, and Earnhardt maintained his position inside the top 10 for the majority of the race. He lined up eighth for the restart with 50 laps to go with fresh tires and fuel. He was bogged down by traffic in the initial blast and settled into 10th temporarily before ascending to seventh. Earnhardt used two more pit stops during two subsequent caution periods for four tires and fuel. Swift work by the No. 88 team kept Earnhardt inside the top 10, and he held on to finish ninth, his eighth career top-10 result at Darlington.