Monday, May 7, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Talladega

Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose head to the lead during Sunday's Aaron's 499.
Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR 
Talladega Superspeedway - anything can happen from exciting finishes to insane crashes! One thing is certain, you can never predict what will happen.

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

Kasey Kahne’s luck seems to be improving over these past few weekends since Texas. He has been producing consistent top 10 finishes.

For the first 50 laps, though not on-track, Kahne had issues because of his spotter Kevin Hamlin's battle with laryngitis. Hamlin was replaced with Clayton Spruill.

He ran in the top 10 with teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. On Lap 88, for the first time this year, he took the race lead and would wind up running in the top five.

As the laps clicked away, Kahne found himself missing not one but two opportunities to be wrecked in the "big ones." He finished Talladega wreck free in fourth place and now ranks 19th in the point standings.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

Jeff Gordon started his weekend off on a high note by earning his 71st career pole award. He would start the Aaron's 499 off strong and lead laps but started to drop back due to overheating issues, staying inside the top 10.

The four-time Cup champion's car looked fast as he battled up in the front; however, on Lap 87 Gordon radioed that he was experiencing flashing lights on his dashboard in relation to his oil temps. As a result, he dropped to the back to get some clean air which ended up helping the issue. On Lap 141, Gordon couldn’t make it by the first crash of the day, when Martin Truex Jr. slide down the track after being hit, taking him out which ended Gordon’s day. He would finish 33rd and now ranks 23rd in the point standings. 

"I’m not sure what happened," Gordon said on the crash. "But man, this is just one of the most bizarre years that this DuPont Chevrolet team and Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet team has ever gone through."

A view of the race Johnson did not want - from the pit box.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

Jimmie Johnson, from the start of the race, quickly found his favorite drafting partner in teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. On Lap 45, the Hendrick duo were quickly on the way to the front and by the next lap Johnson took the race lead. He would lead five laps and when green flag pit stops started the No. 48 was quick on and off making it out first off pit road.

Their lead would be short lived when Johnson radioed to crew chief Chad Knaus that something was amiss and headed back to pit road. It was discovered that they had a broken fuel pump. Johnson would end his day in 35th and now ranks eighth in the points standing. However, Johnson did not rush home but instead watched the race on top of the No. 88 pit box of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"No, it is definitely something different for us," Johnson said. "I started 19th and was able to manage my temperatures pretty good coming up through the pack. Up there leading in all that clean air, my stuff was way cold. We had a problem with oil pressure; the No. 39 did as well. I’m hopeful my Hendrick teammates stay out there on the road all day today."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88

Dale Earnhardt Jr started his day where he started last year at Talladega, with his drafting partner Jimmie Johnson. On Lap 45, while pushing Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. made his charge to the front and with a helpful push he got his teammate to the lead. On Lap 58, green flag stops began and the No. 88 team had a solid stop following teammate Johnson off of pit road in second.

Johnson was the race leader when suddenly he started to have issues with his car and headed back to pit road. Dale Earnhardt Jr. inherited the lead and would go on to lead ten laps. Throughout the remainder of the race, Earnhardt Jr. would either be at the back or the front - unsure of where it was the No. 88 would be safe. With 10 laps to go, Earnhardt Jr. had a close call when a wreck happened right in front of him. The No. 88 made it without a scratch and would take the checkered flag in eighth position, now ranking him third in the points standings.

"We just didn't have a great car," Earnhardt said of his race run. "It was just between me and Steve (Letarte, crew chief), we can improve quite a bit. We've got all the tools, we just really didn't bring the best package here. Good engine. We have all the tools. It ain't nothing anybody at the shop did. Between me and Steve, we can do a better job."


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