JOLIET, Ill. – Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished inside the top 10 as Hendrick Motorsports opened the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in a promising way on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Misfortune struck Jeff Gordon, as his No. 24 Chevrolet was sidelined after a late-race incident.
Here is the race breakdown by team:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet:
Chase position: Fifth.
Race recap: Kahne improved three spots within the first two circuits of Sunday’s race to run third, two places behind leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet continued his forward march and took over second on Lap 8. Kahne maintained his position inside the top 10 as the race unfolded. By the 100-mile mark, he reported that his No. 5 Chevy was a bit loose and that his splitter needed some attention. Crew chief Kenny Francis and the No. 5 team addressed the issue on the ensuing stop. Kahne, driving the chassis he used to win May’s 600-mile event at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, remained a factor in the race. He worked with Francis through various handling adjustments during the 267-lap event, and when the checkered flag waved, he crossed the line to take third, matching, his best result at Chicagoland’s 1.5-mile Speedway. Kahne catapults six spots in the Chase standings to fifth.
Kahne says: “The Farmers Insurance Chevy was good all day. We had a great car. The pit stops were awesome, and I felt good about it.”
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
Chase position: 12th.
Race recap: Within the first nine laps of Sunday’s race at Chicagoland, Gordon improved from 19th to run 14th. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet climbed into the top 10 well before green-flag stops began at the 1.5-mile speedway and was running seventh by Lap 62. Gordon also found track position through solid pit stops and improved two spots early by taking two tires. He was battling for fifth place on Lap 73 and took fourth five laps later thanks to adjustments made by crew chief Alan Gustafson during the previous pit stop. An early developing loose-handling condition was quickly fixed when the No. 24 team wiped debris off Gordon’s grille. The driver of the No. 24 Chevy stayed inside the top 10, but encountered an unfortunate setback on Lap 187. At that point, Gordon reported that the throttle on his No. 24 Chevy stuck slightly and prompted him to collide with the wall in Turn 1. Gordon reported to his team that was he was OK, but his run was finished for the day, and he brought the No. 24 Chevrolet to the garage. He returned to the track later in the race and finished 35th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet
Chase position: Second.
Race recap: Johnson, driving the same chassis he used to win twice this year, opened the 267-lap event from the No. 1 spot and claimed the lead on Lap 4. Throughout green-flag pit stops and caution period, Johnson spent the majority of the race pacing the field. As the race unfolded, fuel mileage and a piece of trash on the grille became concerns for the No. 48 team. Both issues were resolved quickly, as Johnson managed to clean the grille and then a Lap 187 caution period gave Johnson the chance to hit pit road. With two tires and fuel, Johnson filed off pit road alongside Brad Keselowski, who became competition for the lead in the final third of the race. On the restart, Johnson lined up on the inside and immediately sped out to take the lead yet again. Johnson pitted once more with 38 laps to go for four tires and fuel and returned to the track, where he encountered Keselowski once more. Keselowski made a debatable exit from pit road and eventual pass that he used to take the lead. Johnson, who led 172 laps, finished second.
Johnson says: “Great way to start the Chase for us. It’s 10 long races, and a lot can happen. To come out of here second is a great day.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet
Chase position: Seventh.
Race recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified fourth for Sunday’s 267-lap event at Chicagoland Speedway, but was required to start from the rear of the field after an engine change on Saturday. The driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet thought he had a right-rear tire going down early, but realized quickly that wasn’t the case and was the biggest mover early in the race, cracking the top 13 by Lap 51. He subsequently gained five spots on pit road during green-flag stops. By Lap 76, Earnhardt cracked the top 10 and all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers – and Chase contenders – were running inside the top 10 at Chicagoland. Earnhardt had just made a pit stop when the caution flag was waved on Lap 148 and decided to take the wave-around during the ensuing yellow-flag period to stay on the lead lap. Earnhardt steered his No. 88 Chevy back into the top 10 as the race unfolded and finished eighth.
Earnhardt says: “We had a great car at the start to the first half of the race. We made a couple of adjustments; they just really didn’t help us out. We sort of made the car ordinary and just kind of had to maintain track position. Some guys had some trouble, and we’re still in the fight. So we’ll go into the next one still with a shot.”