AVONDALE, Ariz. – Sunday’s race in Phoenix saw two top-10s for Hendrick Motorsports along with strong runs for all four teammates.
Here is what we learned.
TO PIT OR NOT TO PIT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on a mission all day at Phoenix International Raceway, starting with an early-race charge to the front from his 26th-place starting position.
He made it into the top five within the first 50 laps of the race and stayed up front the remainder of the day, even taking the lead before the halfway mark.
Running third in the final laps of the race heading into overtime, Earnhardt had the inside lane for the final restart. No. 88 team crew chief Greg Ives made the call for Earnhardt to stay out on the track during the late-race caution while other teams pitted.
“I thought it was a good move to not pit,” Earnhardt said. “If a couple more guys don’t pit and we get another guy on the outside in the second row we were in good shape.”
Earnhardt did not get the advance in positions he was hoping for and he said that lane choice was important for that final restart.
“I would have loved to have had the top so I could get them guys on the bottom and hold them down,” he said, “but I had the bottom and new tires on the outside of me.”
However, Earnhardt said he was happy with the team’s fifth-place finish.
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers made impressive gains throughout the course of Sunday’s race.
Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne both started at the rear of the field after incidents during Friday night’s qualifying sessions but made quick work of gaining positions.
Chase Elliott logged his second top-10 of the season with an eighth-place finish and said he felt like he and his No. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS team made improvements all day long.
“I felt like we made gains throughout the day,” the rookie said. “The guys did a great job on pit road picking up spots there. (No. 24 team crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) made good adjustments and gave up a couple spots on that last restart, but I was proud of the effort and hopefully we can take it and try to get a little better in Fontana.”
After running in the top five for the majority of the second half of the race, Earnhardt earned the highest Hendrick Motorsports finish in fifth.
“We had an awesome car and that’s three weeks in a row I’ve enjoyed the hell out of driving it,” Earnhardt said. “I had a fun day and we ran great; really, really good. I’m proud of my guys.”
Taking the green flag in the rear of the field, Kahne followed teammate Johnson through the ranks, climbing to just inside the top 15, where he navigated his No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS for the majority of the first half of the race.
Falling outside that top-15 boundary during the second half, Kahne had just broken that barrier once again when the right front tire on his Chevy went down, bringing out a caution with less than 10 laps remaining in the race.
“We had a car capable of running in the top 15 and we were really good early,” the driver said.
He ultimately finished 22nd after the incident.