Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hendrick Garage: It's Bristol, Baby!

Short-track racing was in full force Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. Tempers flew and even helmets went flying. As for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, would their tempers spark or would they have a quiet Bristol race?

Photo credit: Debbie Ross
for Skirts and Scuffs
Kasey Kahne, No. 5

With two races remaining until the Chase, Kasey Kahne sits in 11th position. With two wins, Kahne looks to have a wild card spot secured. As long as he can keep charging and getting top finishes, his chances of making the Chase look good.

Due to rain, qualifying was cancelled and Kahne started his night 12th. Passing at Bristol can be very tricky. Could he race his way to the top without incident?

On Lap 108, Kahne took the lead and kept it for a total of 41 laps. The No. 5 Chevy looked to be a winning car. However, on Lap 148 the caution came out because of David Ragan's spin and Kahne had the misfortune of slipping in the oil from Ragan’s car and hit the wall. Having to pit multiple times, Kahne was lapped by the race leaders.

When the caution came out on Lap 191, Kahne received the Lucky Dog pass, getting him back on the lead lap. His car slowly came back to him but just couldn’t get the speed to lead again. He ended up finishing his night ninth, turning his night around after being a lap down.

“We had a really good car as good as I’ve ever had here,” said Kahne on his wild night at Bristol. “I don’t know who, someone broke an engine. I hit oil leading. I was the first car to it.  I had no clue it was on the track and hit the wall.  It really messed up the right-front and the car just didn’t do the things it’s supposed to after that. The guys worked really hard and made tons of adjustments and things trying to fix it. We got back to ninth so it was as solid of a day as a team can have after hitting the wall that hard.”


Jeff Gordon sporting a unique Farmville paint scheme at Bristol.
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

As the Chase gets closer, Jeff Gordon’s chances of making it grow dimmer. With one win at Pocono, Gordon is still a long shot to grab a wild card spot with just two races remaining until the Chase cut is decided.

Since qualifying was rained out, Gordon started his night 11th based on his practice speeds, but he would quickly get his No. 24 in the top ten within the first few laps.  For the remainder of the night Gordon raced in the top ten, as well as bouncing in and out of the top five.

At Lap 161 Gordon’s car looked to be hooked up as he took second place from Brian Vickers. Even though his No. 24 car was in the top three, Gordon couldn’t get the speed to contend for the lead. Finishing his night third, Gordon is still trying hard to get one of the wild card spots; he is currently 15th in the point standings.

“Yeah, you know, it keeps us still in it, because one of the other guys in the wild card didn't win it," Gordon said of his hopes of getting a Wild Card spot. “I don't know what that's going to do with Tony Stewart. I know he had trouble. You know, I mean, I think we have all been kind of watching where if Denny or Tony fall outside the Top 10, we have two more good opportunities, Atlanta and Richmond that we can definitely get wins at.”

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

After a blown engine kept him from an almost certain win, Jimmie Johnson came to Bristol hungry to forget the events of last weekend at Michigan. Starting 37th wouldn’t stop him...or would it?

Johnson would have to battle his way from the back to front, which could prove to be a long night. When a caution came out on Lap 83, Johnson received some minor damage on the nose of his No. 48 when he was caught in an accident with Kurt Busch and David Ragan.

On Lap 276, Johnson took the lead for the next 51 laps but in the end couldn't hold off Denny Hamlin. Even though Johnson didn't win, getting second place secured Johnson a spot in the Chase.

“Tonight was intense”, Johnson said. “To start that deep in the field when they drop the green, you're half a lap behind, if not more, (from) the initial start. To get going was important for us, but then being back there, we had to get some track position somehow. So we pitted a few times and tried to get some fuel in the car and set up a strategy for us later in the race. That really ended up working out nice for us.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
As the Chase draws near, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to be making back-to-back Chase appearances but could he lock himself in at Bristol?

Starting his night in 16th, Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team were quickly making their move to the front. On Lap 20 he was hit with a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road. Even with the penalty, Earnhardt Jr. was unstoppable as he charged on. He took the lead on Lap 200 for a total of 12 laps.

When caution flew on Lap 347, Earnhardt Jr. pitted when pit road was closed and was sent to the tail end of the field. He ended up restarting in 23rd. Despite two pit road penalties, Earnhardt Jr. bounced back and finished 12th.  Now third in the points standings, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has clenched his spot in the Chase.

“I feel good about it,” said Earnhardt Jr. on locking his place into the Chase. “We worked real hard all season and I want to thank my guys. They do a good job every week and give me good strategy. I made a little mistake and came down a closed pit tonight (laughs). I don’t know what we were thinking. But we had a fast car. The car was so fast at the start of the race. We just lost that track position and couldn’t get by some guys. I had fun, though. I don’t know what the fans thought about the race. But I really enjoyed it.”

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