CONCORD, N.C. – Fuel mileage became the focus as Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event wound down at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne managed to hold on and record finishes inside the top eight in the fifth race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Jeff Gordon finished 18th, and Regan Smith took 38th.
Here is the breakdown by team:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet
Race finish: Eighth.
Chase position: Fifth.
Race recap: Kasey Kahne opened Saturday night’s 334-lap event at Charlotte from the fifth position. By Lap 74, the driver of the No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet was running third and requesting his team consider adjustments to help keep the car off the splitter. During green-flag stops on Lap 134, the No. 5 team addressed Kahne’s concern, adding some packer to the car while also giving it four tires and fuel. Nearly 60 laps later, Kahne pitted once more and asked his team to go in the other direction with the packer. During this ensuing green-flag stop, Kahne stopped for four tires, fuel and the packer adjustment in the left-front tire. The adjustments continued on the next pit stop, and Kahne continued to work with his team and crew chief Kenny Francis. When the checkered flag waved, he took eighth and now ranks fifth in the standings.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Race finish: 18th.
Chase position: Ninth.
Race recap: Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid 13th in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger and immediately tackled the handling of his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet with crew chief Alan Gustafson. The duo opted for a four-tire pit stop -- rather than the two-tire strategy employed by competing teams -- after the caution flag waved on Lap 11 in an attempt to solve some of those handling issues. Gordon restarted 17th and battled with traffic to run as high as 11th before additional handling issues set in. While the No. 24 team made various adjustments and even led once for two laps. But an unfortunate setback occurred during green-flag stops on Lap 219 when Gordon was clocked too fast on pit road. The pass-through penalty put Gordon one lap down, and Gustafson instructed him to stay out during a subsequent debris caution so Gordon could race for the Lucky Dog position. Gordon continued to fight as the race unfolded, and he finished 18th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 mylowes Chevrolet
Race finish: Third.
Chase position: Second.
Race recap: Just 11 laps into Saturday’s 500-mile race at Charlotte, crew chief Chad Knaus was telling driver Jimmie Johnson to save fuel, and the focus didn’t change throughout the Cup event. The No. 48 team had the biggest gain during the caution period on Lap 36 when Johnson entered pit road fourth and left in first among pitting competitors by taking two tires instead of four. This two-tire decision didn’t hurt Johnson, and he maintained his presence in second tracking then-leader Brad Keselowski, who didn’t pit previously. On Lap 70, Johnson took the lead when Keselowski made a green-flag pit stop. The driver of the No. 48 mylowes Chevrolet maintained this position until Lap 83 when he pitted for four tires and fuel, returning to trail Keselowski again, finally taking the top spot from the competitor on Lap 99. When the caution flag waved on Lap 166, Johnson benefited again from pit strategy with two tires instead of four and took the No. 1 spot for the restart on Lap 171. But he couldn’t fend off the cars with four tires and settled into seventh about 10 laps later. He charged back toward the front and began to play the fuel mileage game, cutting it close once when he ran out of fuel on pit road during a Lap 178 stop. With one more green-flag stop, Johnson held on to cross the finish line third. He led three times for 53 laps and maintains his second-place running in the championship standings.
Regan Smith, No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet
Race finish: 38th.
Race recap: Filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Regan Smith opened up Saturday’s race at Charlotte from the 26th position and immediately began his forward march. Smith, who posted the second-fastest time during Friday’s final practice, improved five spots by staying out when the caution flag waved on Lap 11. He restarted 17th, despite a snug handling condition in the middle of the turns. When the caution flag waved again 16 laps later, Smith was running 14th and he made his way down pit road for two tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. The driver of the No. 88 Chevy picked up six spots among pitting teams, thanks to a swift stop, and restarted ninth for the ensuing restart. On Lap 62, misfortune struck the No. 88 team when Smith, who was running 10th at the time, reported an engine issue. Crew chief Steve Letarte instructed Smith to report to the garage.
Smith says: “We had a really fast race car. We had a good first adjustment there, went just a little too far with it and got a little too free. Needed one more stop, and I think we would have had it dialed in and then just chased the weather from that point on. It’s disappointing. It’s a good team, it’s a good car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports does a great job. I’m looking forward to next week. We get three days to test when we get there to Kansas, and we will see if we can get the AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet up front there. I feel confident we will have the same speed we had here.”