Misfortune at Michigan affects strong Hendrick Motorsports run
BROOKLYN, Mich. – Jimmie Johnson chased leader Greg Biffle as the laps wound down on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, but the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS wasn’t able to check another track off his NASCAR Sprint Cup resume. With three laps remaining, Johnson slid into the wall after cutting a left-front tire. He had to report to pit road for repair and became the fourth installment in a series of misfortunes for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday at Michigan’s two-mile oval. His Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each were affected by separate issues during the 200-lap event. Gordon, involved in an early-race incident, was scored 39th, while Kahne cut a tire and took 38th. Earnhardt, who sustained an engine issue, was scored 37th, and Johnson, the final Hendrick Motorsports contender on Sunday, left in 28th-place.
Kasey Kahne, the top qualifier among his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, rolled off the grid third for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS held steady in the top seven during the first 50 laps, using the competition caution on Lap 20 for a track bar adjustment. As the race unfolded, the field encountered five caution flags. The abrupt start wasn’t a positive thing for Kahne, who reported to crew chief Kenny Francis that his car was tight on those initial restarts but improved during the longer green-flag runs. During a Lap 80 restart, Kahne lined up third behind teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who held the front row. Kahne chased then-leader Earnhardt and took the No. 1 spot from him 10 laps later. The driver of the No. 5 Chevy SS stretched out his lead until he blew his right-front tire and made contact with the Turn 2 wall. The caution flag was waved, and Kahne climbed out of his car – finished for the day. “I had no indication (that was going to happen),” Kahne said afterward. “We were just cruising. We had a really good No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet.”
Jeff Gordon lined up 29th for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Michigan International Speedway thanks to an early qualifying draw on Friday. Six laps into his forward march, Gordon was collected in a two-car incident that sent the No. 24 Chevy SS to the garage for repairs. “We had such a good car, man I’m sorry guys,” Gordon radioed his team. After extensive repairs, crew chief Alan Gustafson sent Gordon back onto the track for a test lap on Lap 113. The No. 24 team kept after it to give Gordon track time so he could gain valuable points toward his position in the driver standings. “For years I’ve always said I don’t believe in good luck or bad luck that you make it,” Gordon said afterward. “Just in that instance right there I call that being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I also know that we contribute to where we started. We started back there, and we were moving forward, which I’m proud of, but the fact that we are back there I put as much blame on myself. I really struggled this weekend when we went into qualifying trim. We have to get it better. Starting back there, you are only putting yourself into those positions to have those kinds of things happen. I have a lot of fight in me and so does this team. I’m looking forward to going to Sonoma (Calif).”
Jimmie Johnson qualified 17th for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Michigan International Speedway and improved to run ninth within the first 28 circuits at the two-mile oval. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS cracked the top five on Lap 47, but struggled some with the restarts, particularly Lap 80 when he lined up second next to then-leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. and slipped to 12th. Undaunted, Johnson continued his forward march and became the leader on Lap 64. Johnson reported to crew chief Chad Knaus that his No. 48 Chevy SS was good, but a little free in Turns 3 and 4. As the laps wound down, Knaus and Johnson worked to find the right combination for the No. 48 Chevy SS, and during a late-race pit stop, Knaus instructed the crew members to add another can of fuel to the tank. The bonus fuel translated into a four-plus second delay, but Johnson erased that gap back on the track. By Lap 190, Johnson was running third and gaining 0.3 second per lap on the leader. On Lap 191, Johnson moved into the second spot, continuing to close the gap on leader Greg Biffle. Misfortune struck for Johnson on Lap 197, when he cut a tire and had to report to pit road for service.
Driving the No. 88 National Guard “Man of Steel” Chevrolet SS, Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 12th at Michigan International Speedway – site of his most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. Earnhardt was complimentary of his specially painted ride early in the 400-mile event, and as he improved two spots, he told crew chief Steve Letarte that it was “driving good.” Through the first four caution periods, Earnhardt and Letarte perfected the handling of the No. 88 Chevy SS, and Earnhardt held his position inside the top 10. Running third when the caution flag was waved on Lap 75, Earnhardt hit pit road behind teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Swift work by the No. 88 pit crew sent Earnhardt back onto the track in first. Earnhardt lined up next to Johnson for the restart and held onto the top spot to lead Lap 80. Earnhardt, who now has led in the last three Michigan events, led 10 segments before Kahne and Johnson slipped by. On Lap 104, Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy blew a right-front tire, and Earnhardt moved back to the front, taking the lead again on Lap 105. Earnhardt led 23 laps for a then-race-high 34, before noting an issue with his engine. He slipped off the pace and ultimately was sidelined on Lap 131. “I’m real proud of the car,” Earnhardt said afterward. “We were really struggling in practice, and I’m just real proud of (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and the whole team. They made a lot of great changes. And that car was just flying at the end there. I’m just real proud of my team. Hendrick Motorsports, they work harder than anyone in the business. They’re the best company in the business, and we ought to be out there running up front still, but we’ll get it eventually.”