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Gordon fifth, Earnhardt 11th in season-finale at Homestead

Gordon fifth, Earnhardt 11th in season-finale at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jeff Gordon finished fifth as Hendrick Motorsports wrapped up the NASCAR Sprint Cup season Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet was joined inside the top 11 by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Mark Martin finished 24th and Jimmie Johnson took 32nd in the season-finale event.

Sunday’s 400-mile event opened on a positive note for Hendrick Motorsports. All four drivers were running inside the top 13 by Lap 22. Gordon lined up seventh and consistently battled among the top runners on Sunday and after a nearly hour-long red flag for rain finally took the lead at the 1.5-mile oval. Gordon led seven laps but couldn’t hold off a hard-charging, title contending Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Still, Gordon remained inside the top five as the race continued. He crossed the finish line fifth and ends the season ranked eighth in the championship standings.

“I just want to take this moment to thank Drive to End Hunger for being on board this year,” Gordon said. “All the fans and all the different corporations that supported this great program, one in 9 million old Americans going hungry every day in this country, but we are making a big impact, over 4 million meals served this year and don’t forget to text hunger to 5055. Hopefully we can get this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet back in Victory Lane next year.”

Earnhardt opened the race in 11th and maintained his position there during the majority of Sunday’s event. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet ran as high as second on Lap 161 after staying out during the previous caution period for a spin on the racetrack. Earnhardt crossed the finish line 11th and ranks seventh in the standings.

“(Crew chief) Steve Letarte builds good race cars and that team put together great cars, these are great engines by Hendrick and everybody at that shop they work their guts out -- they have all year long,” Earnhardt said. “I feel real fortunate and lucky to be able to drive the car because they are really nice. I want to thank all those guys that are watching, for all their work all year long. It has been an up-and-down season, but we hope that we can really improve and have more success going forward.”

Martin started 25th on Sunday and was running seventh by Lap 201. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet worked diligently during his last race with Hendrick Motorsports and employed pit strategy after a Lap 134 caution. Martin took right-side tires only and gained 13 spots on pit road to move into the third starting spot. Martin finished 24th and ranks 22nd in the final standings.

Johnson, who started Sunday’s race ninth, raced hard inside the top 10, trying to climb up into the leader spot during the first 100 laps at Homestead. But an engine issue arose, and on Lap 105, Johnson was sitting on pit road with the hood of the No. 48 Chevrolet up and his team working feverishly to replace an ignition box. The change wasn’t the answer, but four laps later, the race was halted due to rain. 

“We are trying everything we can here,” Johnson said during the red-flag period. “When the race returns to yellow, we are going to change the plugs, change the carburetor, and then see from there. I think I started getting some warning signs on the way into the pits that it was an internal situation and those internal parts were trying to find a way out, so we are out of the points trying to finish in the top-five it looks like but if we can get on the track and get going, other guys have some trouble maybe we can get something going there. Just disappointed, we had a fast car. 

“It was running great,” Johnson added. “It was really tough to pass and guys who just block the top and protect the top and you could not get by, I worked my way up there pretty good and was having some fun, sad way to end the season but it is racing, we will come back next year.”

The red-flag period lasted nearly an hour, and once it was over, the No. 48 team continued its work. Johnson returned to the track five laps down and encountered a spin on Lap 142. He ultimately finished 32nd and ranks sixth in the final championship standings.