Monday, March 5, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Phoenix

Credit: Christian Peterson/Getty Images for NASCAR
After the craziest Daytona 500 we’ve ever had, the Hendrick team returned to a track where last year a winless streak broke. Could another winless streak be broken? Would Rick Hendrick finally get that 200th win? You can never be sure what Phoenix will hold.

Kasey Kahne - No.5 
Kasey Kahne returned to a track where last year he ended an 81-race winless streak becoming the first driver to win on the newly configured track surface. Hoping to have a repeat Kahne looked to be a favorite. Kahne started out 10th and with an early caution restarted second on Lap 20. But Kahne got loose and hit the wall hard forcing the team to the garage. After having a rough night at Daytona this wasn’t what the  No. 5 team wanted nor needed. Kahne finished a disappointing 34th and is 32nd in the point standings.

"I've been so excited about it, and I was excited the whole offseason and couldn't wait for the season to get here," Kahne said. "I show up at Phoenix, we're the best car all day Friday, top two cars all day yesterday, would have been the same today. I just need to calm the f*ck down." 

Jeff Gordon - No. 24 
Returning to the track where Gordon ended his winless streak last spring, Gordon hoped to find victory once again. Starting 30th Gordon would have to race his way from the back to the front and that No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy was fast. For most of the race Gordon was inside the top-15 racing his hardest toward the front. Ending the day Gordon crossed the finish line eighth and improved 13 spots in the points. Gordon now ranks 22nd.

“It was a solid day for us,” Gordon said. “I was very happy with some of the calls that we made to get track position. There at the end our car just wouldn’t take off, so we really struggled being real loose getting into the corner. Once it came to us we were pretty good. There was a middle part of the race where I thought we were one of the better cars. It just didn’t work out that way at the end. All in all, we were solid. We needed a solid day like this after last week.” 

Jimmie Johnson -  No. 48 
It hasn’t been the best week for Johnson, after being docked -25 points, Johnson started the race -70 points behind. Keep in mind, this is the 5-time champion we are talking about if anyone can dig their way out of a hole, Johnson can. Johnson started out his day fourth and was quickly on the move, with his sights on one and only position - first. By Lap 49 Johnson was second and quickly gaining on leader Tony Stewart. On Lap 60 Johnson took the lead. Johnson went onto lead 55 laps, but when loose handling conditions hit the No. 48 team, Johnson lost track position. It took two pit stops for the No.48 crew to fix the issue and then Johnson was quickly back up front. Johnson ended his day where he started, in fourth position but was able to improve 11 spots in the points, now ranking 38th. 

“I’m very proud of the effort,” Johnson said. “We had a very fast Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet. Unfortunately we had a little hiccup on pit road and it kept us from really racing for the win, but we still fought back and got into it. So I’m very proud of the effort and very proud of our race team."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - No.88 
It would prove to be a long day for Earnhardt Jr, starting 29th would not be an easy task to overcome. Earnhardt Jr. looked to have a fast No. 88 Chevy, but received damage to his left front tire after being hit by Aric Almirola. After two pit stops to bend in the damaged front, Earnhardt Jr. was back out on the track, but could never fully recover after his run-in. Jr. looked to have a top-10 finish, however the final restart threw  more challenges in his path as he got ran as the field returned to green. The team would finish the day 14th and now ranks fifth in the points. 

"We fought the car all weekend. I'm proud of the team. They worked hard all day, and Stevie made the car better," said Earnhardt. "There just wasn't a lot of grip out there. We had to be patient and get whatever we could, because we were really sliding the right-rear everywhere, and when we got behind other cars it was really hard to pass them. We would get so tight, and it would just push. But we got everything we could get today, and sometimes that's what you have to do. This wasn't the most fun I've had in a race car, but we'll move on to the next race. We have a long way to go. We know we need to get better."


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