SPARTA, Ky. - There were three laps left in Saturday’s inaugural Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway when Jimmie Johnson lined up next to Kyle Busch on the front row for the final restart. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet had a strong restart, but couldn’t pick up enough speed to get past eventual winner Busch. Johnson crossed the finish line third to pick up his sixth top-five finish of the year and lead his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, who rounded out the top 30.
“It was a great night for the Lowe’s Chevrolet,” said Johnson, who improves to fifth in the driver standings. “We had a solid race car, drove up through the field a few times and raced for the win. The (No.) 18 was a bit better than us when we were on similar tires. The restart went good for me. If I could have stayed next to him coming off (Turn) 3 and going into (Turn) 4, I think I would have had a better shot at the win.”
Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event marked the first for the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway, and the Hendrick teammates entered the race with notes from Thursday’s test session and Friday’s solo practice run. That practice session also turned out to be the one that determined Saturday’s starting lineup after rain showers canceled Friday’s qualifying.
Jeff Gordon joined Johnson in the top 10 on Saturday with a 10th-place finish. Capitalizing on pit strategy, Gordon and the No. 24 team improved from running a lap down early in the race to return to the top 15. Gordon improved his position in the closing laps to pick up his eighth top-10 finish of the season. He now ranks seventh in the driver standings.
Like Gordon, Mark Martin recovered from running a lap down early in the race to finish 22nd. He lined up 28th and worked with his team on the No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet throughout the race. Martin now ranks 19th in the driver standings.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s day was going well as he rallied from his 29th-place starting spot to run inside the top 10 in the final 20 laps. Earnhardt drove his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet onto pit road with 15 laps left in the race for a splash of fuel. Disappointment struck when he left pit road, though, and he blew his left-front tire. Earnhardt returned to pit road for new tires and finished the race 30th. He now ranks eighth in the driver standings.