Monday, April 2, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Martinsville

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Martinsville is the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit, where tempers tend to flare. This is a track where Hendrick Motorsports has 18 wins. Would this be No. 19 and finally the long-awaited 200th win?

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

Getting his second pole of the year, Kasey Kahne was hoping for momentum. Kahne opened the race strong but fell back to second as Kevin Harvick passed him quickly. Kahne would stay and battle up front for the first half of the race.

A little past halfway, Kahne experienced an engine issue, causing the driver of the No. 5 to head into the garage for repairs. Kahne returned to the track; however, on Lap 315 Kahne spun on pit road, bringing out the caution. That would be the end of the No. 5 car's day. Kahne finished the day in 38th and is now 31st in the point standings.

Asked about his bad luck this season, Kahne said, "I am upset that we haven’t run great this year, but we are great on Friday and Saturday, we were fast again today, and we have the speed so when it’s our time we will be ready to take advantage of it."

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

Seven-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon hoped to win another grandfather clock this weekend. Starting in ninth, Gordon would be in the position to make that happen.

Gordon had a fast car and Lap 22 he charged to the lead. Gordon continued to lead until Lap 229 when teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead; both drivers were in the process of green flag stops when the lead changed. Gordon quickly regained the lead due to solid pit times.

Lap 369 was when things started to get fun. For the reminder of the race Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson battled for the lead, while teammate Earnhardt Jr. stayed in third. Looking for that 200th win for Hendrick Motorsports with only 3 laps to go, the caution flag waved, and both Gordon and Johnson stayed out.

All other cars on the lead lap pitted and had fresh tires for the restart; Gordon had worn out ones and that would prove to be very risky. The old tires proved to be Gordon’s kryptonite. He wasn't able to get going on the restart, and then an accident behind him triggered by the No. 39 of Ryan Newman and the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer took Gordon out. The 200th win vanished right before Gordon’s eyes. Gordon led over 328 laps and finish his day 14th. He now ranks 21st in the point standings.

 “I didn’t get the best restart, so when (Clint Bowyer) first shoved his nose down there, I thought OK we’ll make it work,” Gordon said after the wreck. “But he came through there with so much speed, I had nowhere to go, and Jimmie (Johnson) had nowhere to go. I didn’t want to see that last caution. We had such a great battle going with the (No.) 48, and he’s so tough here."
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

Starting from the back proved to be no hassle for Jimmie Johnson, who was on the move from the moment the green flag waved.

By Lap 65 Johnson was in the top 10 and charging to the front, Johnson clearly had a fast No. 48 Chevrolet. The caution came out on Lap 102, and Johnson received a speeding penalty on pit road; Johnson would once again have to charge to the front. By Lap 123 Johnson was back in the top 10.

On Lap 369 Johnson found himself lined up by his teammate Jeff Gordon. Johnson and Gordon battled for the lead while Denny Hamlin drove by, leaving the two teammates to battle for second. With 107 laps remaining Johnson finally outran Hamlin and took the lead, and the No. 24 followed quickly to take second.

With three laps to go caution was waved. This wasn't what Johnson wanted to see because the decision not to pit would end any hope of winning. When the green-white-checkered waved, Johnson was caught up in the wreck with Gordon and spun around. Johnson had led over 112 laps throughout the race but would settle for a 12th-place finish. He now is 10th in the points.

“We just restarted and got going,” Johnson said about the wreck. “That inside lane is awfully inviting at times to dive-bomb on people. The No. 15 (Clint Bowyer) threw a dive-bomb in there. I’m sure once he got in there and realized it wasn’t the best idea. It turned me around. It turned the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) around. But it is what it is. It’s short-track racing…”

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88

Starting 14th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. quickly made his way into the top 10, making a charge to the front. On Lap 129 Earnhardt Jr. would take the lead from teammate Gordon and lead 3 laps. For the remainder of the race Earnhardt Jr. stayed in third while his teammates Gordon and Johnson battled for the lead. Earnhardt Jr. had a better car on long runs versus short runs. When the caution came out with 3 laps to go, the No. 88 was the first of the lead lap cars to pit.

Taking only two tires, Earnhardt Jr. came out hoping for his shot at the win, battling with his teammates for win No. 200 for Hendrick Motorsports. When the G-W-C flags waved, Earnhardt Jr. had a clear shot of his teammates wrecking. Junior even got bumped during the wreck but there was not enough damage to send the No. 88 onto pit road. Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought home a 3rd-place finish - his fourth top-10 finish in six races - and is now 2nd in the point standings.


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