Monday, July 2, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Kentucky ... Fried Chicken?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. battles with Brad Keselowski for position during the
Quaker State 400. Credit: Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Welcome back to Kentucky Speedway. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to the track for its second trip and some Saturday night racing under the lights. Moving on from the traffic problems of 2011, will the racing traffic on track slow the ever powerful Hendrick posse?

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

It appears the spotter search is over. Kasey Kahne and the No. 5 team welcomed Kevin Hamlin to the team as Kahne’s full-time spotter for the rest of the Sprint Cup season. Now it is time to get down to business and focus on the task as hand: making it into the Chase.

Kahne's performance at Kentucky brought that goal a step closer. He had a stellar night at the 1.5-mile track, in a race coincidentally sponsored by his own race sponsor, Quaker State.

The night started off slowly and decent for Kahne; it wasn’t until Lap 44 that the No. 5 Chevy had issues. Thinking it was a loose right front wheel, Kahne was forced to return to pit road, losing a lap. On Lap 148 when the caution flag came out, Kahne had raced his way into the lucky dog position, finally back on the lead lap.

With the final 20 laps remaining, Kahne’s car was suddenly floating on air through the track. Passing drivers nonstop, Kahne came all the way back from being a lap down to the runner-up spot.

With one win, Kahne could secure himself a wild card spot if all else fails, but if he keeps finishing the way he has been, he may just make the points on his own! Kahne now ranks 14th, up three positions from last week.

"Yeah, it would have been great to win in the Quaker State car," Kahne said on his second-place finish. “But we had a really good Quaker State Chevy throughout the whole race. Yesterday in practice I was worried, and Kenny Francis and Keith Rodden made some really good adjustments. We felt like our teammates were pretty good. So we looked at some of the things they were doing. And it's nice to have as good of teammates as we had. So we were able to put a nice package in the car and it worked really well. We got a lap behind there with the loose right front, and then we had another slow stop later.  The pit crew is really good at times and they're solid."

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

It hasn’t been the greatest of seasons for Jeff Gordon, but there’s still time for him to turn it around.

Gordon started off his night off on the right note, staying inside the top 10 for the evening. His night wasn’t very eventful but he did manage to bring home a great fifth-place finish, his second top-5 finish of the year.

He isn't out of the woods yet as he sits 18th in the points; he’s really going to need some wins if he hopes to make the Chase.

Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

Jimmie Johnson started his night off from the pole position but quickly lost the lead to Kyle Busch. Johnson had handling issues, which caused him to fall to third early on. Throughout the night he battled his poor handling car, an issue that was seen with other cars thoughout the field. Johnson led for 16 laps before pitting under the green flag.


On the final restart Johnson looked to have a top-five finish within reach when suddenly his car started to act as if it had a tire down going down. He was able to recover and drove back up front, closing out his night in sixth. Johnson also gained a spot in the points. He's now third in the championship standings.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88

Still on an emotional high from his win in Michigan, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to have that momentum coming into Kentucky.

Having a solid night, Earnhardt Jr. was consistently in the top five. It wasn't until Lap 148 when The No. 88 had a long pit stop from a stuck lug nut, causing him to fall back. That wasn't about to stop the 88 Dew Crew. Crew chief Steve Letarte kept Earnhardt calm so he could regain position on the track.

Earnhardt Jr. would once again have a great night and a solid fourth-place finish. He also moved up one spot in the points to second. I’d keep my eyes on the No. 88 team if I were the competition.

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