JOLIET, Ill. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed fuel use in his No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet and claimed a third-place finish in the opening race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on Monday at Chicagoland Speedway. Earnhardt was followed across the finish line by Mark Martin in ninth, Jimmie Johnson in 10th and Jeff Gordon in 24th.
Earnhardt, who started the day 19th in the lineup, pitted for fuel only when the last caution of the day was brought out on Lap 213. With just 50 laps to go on the restart, the driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet began his charge to the front of the field. Earnhardt climbed into the top-10 with 37 laps to go in the 400-mile event and still was able to conserve enough fuel to take third-place as most of the front-runners ran out of fuel on the final lap. Earnhardt’s strong finish moved him to fifth in the driver standings.
“We worked real hard all weekend trying to be smart,” Earnhardt said. “The car was a bit of a struggle in the middle part of the race, but in that last run we were one of the best cars on the track. My guys had great pit stops and worked really hard trying to get better so I really have to thank those guys for what they got us today. We had a good car, and we were just real smart all weekend and did a good job. I am real happy with the team.”
Martin took ninth-place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup event after starting the day 25th on the grid. The driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet called for more grip, a tighter car and an air pressure adjustment early on to help him gain track position. After the pit crew made adjustments during the first few pit stops, Martin was posting the fastest speeds on the track. Martin broke into the top 10 on Lap 185 and held on to cross the finish line just ahead of Johnson as the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet began slowing down on the final lap.
Johnson started 12th and was running fifth by Lap 80. Johnson closed in on then-leader Ryan Newman to take first-place on Lap 163 and create a 3.6 second lead on second-place. Johnson led 39 laps before the final caution. Johnson was fourth on the final restart, but was unable to conserve enough fuel and slowed down for a 10th-place finish on the final lap. Johnson currently ranks eighth in the driver standings.
Gordon battled handling issues throughout the day but managed to come back from being two laps down early in the Cup event. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet was urged by crew chief Alan Gustafson to conserve fuel after Gordon restarted 12th with 50 laps to go, but on the last half of the final lap ran out of gas to cross the finish line 24th. Gordon moved to 11th in the driver standings.
Hendrick Motorsports team heads to New Hampshire International Speedway next Sunday for the second Chase event.