LOUDON, N.H. – Jeff Gordon led a race-high 78 laps during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and held on for the fourth-place finish. Fuel and tire issues came into play as his teammates followed inside the top 24 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 17th, while Jimmie Johnson took 18th and Mark Martin was scored 24th.
The Hendrick Motorsports teammates spent most of Sunday’s race running inside the top 15. Gordon, Martin and Johnson led at least one lap during the race.
Gordon, who started seventh in his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, claimed the top spot by Lap 63 and ultimately led three times for a race-high 78 laps. Gordon was leading the field when his teammate Earnhardt encountered a flat tire on Lap 228. Gordon coasted onto pit road, and experienced an issue when his No. 24 Chevy wouldn’t restart after running out of fuel. With fresh tires and fuel, he returned to the track and began his forward march. The lengthy stop didn’t appear to hurt Gordon, and he ran as high as third before crew chief Alan Gustafson alerted his driver that he should save fuel. Gustafson informed Gordon that the team wasn’t able to put as much fuel in as hoped during the stop. Gordon held on and crossed the finish line fourth. Gordon now ranks fifth in championship standings.
“We got back out there and once I got behind guys like Tony (Stewart, race winner), I was really just too tight to pass them anyway,” Gordon said. “But I wasn’t expecting to have to conserve as much fuel as we did. We didn’t need to take any chances like we did last week at Chicago. All we can do is look at the good side and that is we made gains in the points.”
Earnhardt’s flat tire affected an otherwise strong day for the driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet. Earnhardt, who started 12th, already had rallied from being a lap down during the early part of the race. Earnhardt was caught on pit road when the caution flag was waved on Lap 156. Earnhardt improved to run 13th by Lap 184 and was doing his best to pass on the New Hampshire short track. But with 72 laps left in Sunday’s event, the front-right tire on the No. 88 Chevy went flat. Earnhardt made his way down pit road for fresh tires and fuel. He returned to the track and improved from his spot deep in the field to cross the finish line 17th, albeit with another flat right-front tire.
“We had a great car,” said Earnhardt, who ranks eighth in the driver standings. “We just had a flat tire with about 100 laps to go and then we had another flat tire right there at the end – just too much camber. We had a little too much camber, getting a little too much travel, and the track did tighten up there at the end. It’s a shame. I’m frustrated because I want to win a race. I’d like to win the Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup), but I want to win a race, and we had a good enough car to do that today.”
Track position also affected Johnson during Sunday’s race. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet started 10th, but hovered around 15th for the majority of the day, encountering contact with several competitors during the day. Johnson picked up a bonus point by leading one lap – Lap 238 – when the field was pitting under green-flag conditions. The five-time defending Cup champion now ranks 10th in the standings.
“Today we just didn’t have the speed, and track position was so important,” Johnson said. “We’ll take this one on the chin and go on to the next one. You gotta take every race as they come. Anything can happen, but days like today aren’t what you hope for, that's for sure.”
Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, paced some of the fastest laps on Sunday and improved from his 21st starting spot to take the lead after some realy pit strategy. The caution flag waved on Lap 87, and the No. 5 team opted not to pit to improve its track position. Martin maintained the lead for 46 laps before slipping through the field. He crossed the finish line 24th and ranks 16th in the driver standings.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next will compete at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday.