[media-credit name=”kansasspeedway.com” align=”alignright” width=”158″][/media-credit]KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne finished inside the top eight in Sunday’s 267-lap event at Kansas Speedway, while Jeff Gordon finished 21st as Hendrick Motorsports surpassed its 3,000th NASCAR Sprint Cup start. The organization, which scored its 199th Cup win last October at Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval, now has 3,003 career Cup starts in 28 seasons of racing.
On Sunday, Johnson lined up his specially painted No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in 15th and climbed his way into the top five when the first caution flag of the race was waved on Lap 52. Twenty-four laps later, Johnson (fourth) joined his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kahne (third), Earnhardt (sixth) and Gordon (11th) inside the top 11. Johnson improved his position inside the top five, leading once on Lap 92 before making a scheduled green-flag stop. With four tires and fuel, Johnson returned to his spot among the leaders. On Lap 156, he passed the No. 11 car to take second. Johnson continually tried to close the gap with then-leader Martin Truex Jr., and green-flag pit stops began as the duo continued to battle. When Truex made his pit stop, Johnson followed, and despite a flawless stop by the No. 48 team, Johnson left pit road just behind Truex.
When the caution flag waved on Lap 187, crew chief Chad Knaus called Johnson down pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. Johnson was the only driver in the top five to pit and the decision initially cost the No. 48 Chevy position. Johnson restarted 12th on Lap 193, but was battling for third within the next 20 green-flag laps. With 24 laps to go, Johnson was trailing the leader and second-place positions by about one second. Johnson crossed the line third and ranks seventh in the driver standings.
“We had good speed,” Johnson said. “We could run second or third all day long, but to catch the (No.) 56 we needed more. We worked a lot during the middle part of the race. I could get to him, I just couldn’t pass him.
“Then we came in and a lot of those cats stayed out. That was a little pit strategy on our part. I don’t think it hurt us any. Maybe cost us a spot, but I don’t think that was the case. Overall a great day. We ran where we should. We just needed a little bit more to race for the win.”
Earnhardt followed Johnson across the line to finish seventh and pick up his sixth top-10 finish of the season. The driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet opened the 267-lap event from the seventh position and was running as high as third within the first 100 laps. During an early green-flag stop, the No. 88 crew worked to address a loose-handling condition Earnhardt reported in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, while crew chief Steve Letarte radioed that Earnhardt’s lap times were great.
Back on the rough 1.5-mile racetrack, Earnhardt maintained his footing inside the top 10, and continued to give his team feedback. As the race wound down, handling became a persistent issue. Earnhardt slipped from running third to running sixth by Lap 212, and he was reporting that his No. 88 Chevrolet was too loose in and also loose off. Letarte made the call to tighten up the No. 88 Chevrolet on the team’s final stop, which helped Earnhardt pick up the seventh-place finish. Earnhardt ranks fourth in the driver standings.
Kahne scored his best result of the season after finishing eighth on Sunday. He started ninth and ran as high as second by Lap 90, when then-leader Kevin Harvick had to stop for fuel. Kahne wasn’t far behind and stopped for tires and fuel on the ensuing green-flag lap. After refiring the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, Kahne returned to the racetrack inside the top 15 where he encountered a handling issue. He spent the race working on the issue with his team and picked up his second top-10 finish of the season. Kahne ranks 26th in the driver standings.
Gordon, winner of the inaugural Kansas event in 2001, rolled off the grid 20th on Sunday and cracked the top 11 by Lap 74. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet reported to his team that the handling was off. The No. 24 team worked through a variety of adjustments, none of which seemed to really do the trick, but Gordon maintained his footing inside the top 15. With 20 laps to go, Gordon pitted for tires and fuel under green-flag conditions. He held on for the 21st-place finish.
Next up, Hendrick Motorsports will compete at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Saturday, April 28.