JOHNSON, ELLIOTT IN TOP 10
Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, Jimmie Johnson led the way for Hendrick Motorsports with an eighth-place result.
Battling the handling of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS for much of the first half of the race, Johnson worked to find his way toward the top 10.
“Normal Richmond race – just a tough track,” he said. “Tough to get the grip that you need to go fast. But we had a decent performance through the course of the night and were able to get a top-10 out of it.”
The driver was happy to take the top-10 to close out the regular season, but knows the No. 48 team will need even better results now that the playoffs have arrived.
“To finish just outside the top 10 the last couple weeks, then get a top-10 now, directionally it's correct,” he said. “We have much higher expectations for ourselves.”
Joining him inside the top 10 was teammate Chase Elliott, who rounded out the group in 10th.
Beginning the race in ninth, he spent the majority of the event teetering on the edge of the top 10, using the overtime period to cement the 10th-place result.
“We really struggled tonight – definitely not where we wanted to be,” Elliott said afterward. “Really, I thought our car was driving pretty good in practice. I had optimistic hopes it was going to go a little better than what I did, but unfortunately it didn't.”
Now, he’s ready to take the No. 24 team deep into the playoffs in a format where he noted that “anything is possible.”
NO. 88 TEAM’S STRATEGY
We were running about fifth or sixth at best, having a great night but we weren’t going to pass those top five guys,” Earnhardt explained. “So, we needed a trick strategy to leap-frog them on pit road.”
So, as competitors headed to pit road for green-flag stops late in the race, Earnhardt stayed on the track. The strategy resulted in the race lead, where he remained for 13 laps.
“We needed a yellow to come out leading – we had everybody kind of trapped down a lap,” Earnhardt said. “We would have ended up pitting and getting tires, the other guys would have got the wave-around, but we would have had that track position, finally. We probably would have come out of pit road after the stop in first or second and that might have set us up great for a run to the finish.”
Unfortunately, the yellow flag never came, and as cars on fresher tires began to pass Earnhardt, the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS was eventually forced to head to pit road.
Still, Earnhardt recovered for a 13th-place finish.
“We had a car that I think could have won the race if it had that track position,” he said. “It’s still a really good weekend for us.”
KAHNE PLEASED WITH FINAL REGULAR-SEASON RESULT
Just ahead of Earnhardt at the checkered flag was Kasey Kahne, who took home a 12th-place finish.
Late in the race, Kahne was one of the first cars to head to pit road during a long green-flag stretch, as the No. 5 team looked for their strategy to play off just like their teammates on the No. 88 team.
“We took a little bit of a gamble with strategy to try to hope for a caution at the right time and end up in the top five,” Kahne explained. “It didn’t work out and we lost two spots because of it and ended up 12th.”
As he prepares to take on the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Kahne was pleased with how the team worked together in the regular-season finale.
“We had a competitive car, we raced hard and the guys did a really nice job,” he said. “It’s a good way to end the regular season and get ready for the final 10.”