Hendrick Chasers Have Rough Time In Loudon
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
LOUDON, N.H. – The elite Hendricks Motorsports team was anything but on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Jeff Gordon led the team’s four NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers with a fourth-place finish, but it was anything but satisfying considering the fact that he had the best car on the 1.058-mile oval throughout most of the race.
The four-time Cup champion ran out of gas as he made his final pit stop, then the No. 24 team failed to get his gas tank full. That forced Gordon to slow down to save enough fuel to get to the end, costing him a shot at the win.
“Somehow we misjudged how far we could go on that second to last run and we ran out,’’ Gordon said. “So it just shows you how important every little detail (is). We were just setting the pace, so it is unfortunate that that happened.
“At that point, when I ran out, I didn’t know I had so save fuel. I thought we were in a window and we were just going to come in and do a green flag stop. It is just too frustration. All we can do is look at the good side and it is good that we made gains in the points.’’
Gordon, who had a bad day in the previous week’s Chase for the championship opener and fell to 11th,
did get back up to fifth place Sunday, trailing race winner and new leader Tony Stewart by 23 points with eight races left.
The day was actually far worse for Gordon’s three Hendrick teammates.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had two flat tires and finished 17th, followed in 18th by five-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who had handling problems, and in 24th by Mark Martin _ all of them bitterly disappointed after the 300-lap race.
Earnhardt leaves Loudon eighth in the standings, 26 points behind Stewart.
“We’ll take it right now. It could be worse,’’ he said. “We could be sitting in Victory Lane, but we could be out of the Chase all together. I think having two flat tires we got pretty lucky today to get home in the top 20.’’
Johnson, who is now 10th in the standings, 29 points behind, was never in contention Sunday. The unsually mild-mannered Johnson even had a bit of a radio spat with crew chief Chad Knaus, who tried to exhort his driver to make a move toward the front of the pack.
Johnson chafed at the remarks, saying, “Your cheerleading’s getting annoying.”
To compound matters, a late-race collision with the lapped-car of Kyle Busch cost Johnson a number of spots.
“It was just the end of a bad day,’’ Johnson said. “We didn’t have a car like we thought we would. … It just didn’t have the speed, and then track position was so important and some pit calls didn’t work out our way. But we’ll take this one on the chin and go on to the next one.”
Martin, who did not qualify for the 12-man Chase, led 46 laps Sunday, nearly double his season total coming into the race. But a flat tire cost him a lap and he never recovered.
Former Cup champion Kurt Busch was in no mood for talking before the race.
He was put into a very dark mood when NASCAR initially failed his Penske Dodge in pre-race technical inspection. Eventually, the car was passed, but it was the last one to be rolled onto pit lane.
The problem was a rear-end housing that did not conform to NASCAR’s specifications.
Crew chief Steve Addington told ESPN just before the green flag that each side of the housing was 1/32 of an inch too wide and had to be adjusted before it could pass inspection.
“It’s an issue we’ll have to deal with the first of next week,” Addington told ESPN.
Despite the technical issue, Busch was allowed to start in the No. 5 position he earned in Friday’s qualifying. The situation was not expected to result in any penalties from NASCAR.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.com Comments